Beyond Hand Sanitizers: A Local Philanthropic Response to COVID-19

So, COVID-19 is coming to town. Like me, you’ve probably been reading tips on how to boost your immune system, how to self-quarantine, and how many seconds are required for effective hand washing until your eyeballs are dry. In addition to considering self care, I encourage you to consider how COVID-19/coronavirus may impact your philanthropic portfolio, and how to respond.

Here, I’m focusing my recommendations on how to respond on the local level, in the United States. We want our community-based nonprofits to have the resources to support our most vulnerable neighbors, and to survive this coming uncertain year.

I’m willing to wager that we’ll see these two dynamics at the local level:


Yes, any sort of health care organization will struggle to respond to increased demand due to coronavirus. However, also consider the impact on the other basic human needs nonprofits. The people in our communities who are going to be hardest hit are those who are already struggling: people working low wage jobs with no benefits and no sick time, people who are self-employed, people who already live with health conditions, people who are elderly, and people who are caregivers. For these community members, becoming ill, being forced to self-quarantine, staying home with children who are out of school, or caring for an ill family member may mean losing their job and/or losing weeks and weeks of pay.

For the 78% of U.S. workers living paycheck to paycheck, the impact of coronavirus will mean that they cannot pay their rent or mortgage, their bills, or buy enough healthy food. We need to anticipate that soon many community members will be facing financial stress, and offer short-term solutions that will help our neighbors now.


Nonprofits, especially the smaller nonprofits that already struggle to scrape together funding, are going to be in crisis this year, for two reasons. First, giving may decline, given the volatile stock market affecting portfolios of donors with invested assets, and coronavirus affecting the lives of poor and middle income donors. Many nonprofits will also be taking a financial hit from cancelled theater performances, conferences, and other events.

The other is that many nonprofits, especially small organizations, are unable to provide market rate compensation and benefit packages, or sick leave. Think of a small nonprofit like your local food shelf or shelter … when their staff start to get sick or are supposed to self-quarantine, how can they afford to both pay staff for sick leave AND hire the necessary temporary staff to keep up with increased demand for their services? Your local food shelf may see a day when half their staff are sick at home without pay, more people than ever need temporary access to food, and someone still needs to buy the food and stock the shelves.


  1. Make general operating grants: The nonprofits you support need to be able to pivot quickly, and while that specific project a foundation funded sounded promising six months ago, now nonprofits need to respond to coronavirus. General operating funds help them to do that.
  2. Support free health care clinics: People who are uninsured, or underinsured, need to access care without breaking the bank. People who are undocumented may not seek care at all out of fear of deportation. Click here to find free healthcare clinics in your community.
  3. Increase giving to basic human needs nonprofits: In your community, who is working on homelessness prevention? What organizations are able to help pay overdue bills to ensure that a family crisis doesn’t mean a family loses their home? Where are the nonprofits that are delivering meals or groceries to seniors and people who are homebound? Where can your neighbor pick up food when they can’t afford groceries this month because their children aren’t able to eat lunch at school anymore? These are the organizations that are especially going to struggle; seek them out and support them.
  4. Consider offering emergency funding for paid sick leave: In an ideal world, we would not be having to consider using philanthropic funds for sick leave. However, given that only 68% of all workers have any paid sick days (and less than half of service industry workers), chances are good that your local nonprofits struggle to offer their staff paid sick days. Especially for small organizations, consider offering funding that makes it easier for the nonprofit and for the staff to stay home when sick — and hire temporary staff to continue services.

We’re about to experience a year of philanthropy that will be a test of values and priorities. As a civil society, we cannot let COVID-19 become synonymous with food insecurity, bankruptcy, or homelessness. We need our communities to be able to weather this storm and come out stronger. Consider proactively getting ahead of the crisis curve with a plan to use your philanthropy to support your community’s response to coronavirus.


On the Philanthropic Response to COVID-19:

Center for Disaster Philanthropy

FSG: Seven Things Philanthropy Can Do

Webinar: How Philanthropy Can Support and Enhance the Government Response to COVID-19

Responding to Orlando

We are all heartsick over the horrific shooting in Orlando: the worst mass shooting in the United States since the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and squarely targeted at the LGBTQ community. While first reactions to such a tragedy often range from grief to fury, many then feel moved to action. This is a time to consider what may be a gift out of the norm – whether you may find yourself giving out of cycle, or outside of your focus areas, or  giving to the LGBTQ community for the first time. Let the grief that has broken open your heart also break open your grantmaking, and consider what philanthropic response feels right to you:


Equality Florida‘s Pulse Victim Fund has raised over $4.2M from over 92,000 people as of this writing, including a $100,000 gift from GoFundMe itself. That’s quite a statement. Equality Florida will work with the National Center for Victims of Crime and local partners to distribute the funds.


Find and support your local LGBTQ center wherever you live by checking CenterLink, the national association of LGBTQ community centers.

The Center, which is the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, is one of the organizations supporting on-the-ground support for victims and families, including transportation, funerals, obituaries, counseling, and pet assistance. You can support their efforts here.

For my fellow Vermonters, our center is the Pride Center of Vermont (formerly the RU12? Community Center) which works to advance the health and safety of LGBTQ Vermonters. Their demonstration in support of the victims brought together over 2,000 people in Burlington this week.


Funders for LGBTQ Issues has been guiding funders on making investments in the LGBTQ community since 2000. Check out their excellent resources for funders, and consider joining.

In Vermont, we can access philanthropic guidance on supporting the LGBTQ community through the Samara Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation. Your gift supports their work in promoting philanthropy by and for the LGBTQ community throughout the state.

No matter how one chooses to respond, when philanthropy is an integral part of our lives, it feels right to respond philanthropically. Perhaps the silver lining of this horrific event, if there can be one, is the individual opportunity we have to consider our relationship to the LGBTQ community specifically, and to the desire for a peaceful and accepting civil society generally, and how we can each express that relationship through our giving.

#westandwithorlando #orlando #philanthropy #loveislove

Not a Pig with a Waltham Watch

I remember sitting at Con Hogan’s kitchen table, almost 10 years ago, as he succinctly explained how he had pioneered the then-radical concepts of government accountability and measurable outcomes as Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. We were at his farm in Plainfield, I was the nascent Executive Director of the Permanent Fund for Vermont Children, a supporting foundation of the Vermont Community Foundation, and Con was my board member. A couple diagrams sketched on the back of a piece of paper, and – bam! – he illustrated the nationally recognized outcomes work that still drives so many people and organizations around world today to improve the well-being of their citizenry.

Con’s innovative ideas and his focused determination to get results transformed the largest agency in state government and improved well-being for every Vermonter, but, in typical fashion, he credited everyone else for the miracles he wrought, including, not in order, the Republican and Democratic governors under whom he served, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, other forward-thinking state government staff, and the non-profits who do good work every day in their communities.

That day, Con challenged me to figure out how to apply those concepts of accountability and measurable outcomes to philanthropy. He somehow managed to both set the bar fantastically high, yet also supported me as I struggled to reach it — meaning that I was fortunate enough to count Con as my mentor, as do so many others around the country.

In the ensuing years, we developed a tradition of carpooling to Permanent Fund board meetings. In theory, this meant that we met at the Berlin park and ride, and I drove us to the site visits and board meetings we held around the state, from nonprofit board rooms to prison visiting rooms. In practice, this meant that we launched into fiery debates on human services, corrections policy, and how to create sustainable change with private grantmaking as soon as our seat belts were buckled, and an hour later, one of us would eventually look out the window and say, “Where the heck are we?” as we bumped down some back road, with me having completely lost track of the directions I had so carefully composed in advance. (Truthfully, when we realized we were lost, the language was far more colorful than that, and typically included one of Con’s multitudes of euphemisms, that I often crossed my fingers hoping to hear. “A pig with a Waltham watch” is one of my favorites.) We became infamous for being the first to leave home for board meetings, and the last to arrive.

Con’s guidance sticks with me today. Five years ago, when I was doing feasibility testing in advance of starting Forward Philanthropy, I again asked for Con’s advice. He encouraged me to move forward to found this philanthropic advising firm — well, no, it wasn’t really encouragement, he gave me no choice but to press the “go” button. “Vermont needs this! Heck, philanthropy needs this!” he insisted. After that little mentoring session, there was no going back: Con is a force to be reckoned with.

So, it is a marvelous tribute for the Vermont Community Foundation to launch the “Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial, Community Leadership”. Please join me in making a gift to the VCF to support the award of $15,000 to a mid-career community leader with Con Hogan’s vision and commitment to making a difference, results, and community connection. And, come see the inaugural award being presented to the amazing Ellen Kahler, of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, on Thursday, October 8, 4:00 – 6:00, at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier (click to RSVP). I am sure it will be an inspiring event, but I just wish that the criteria for the award had included the ability to employ well-timed euphemisms.

Giving Well in Sandy’s Wake

When I posted this commentary on the anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene in August, no one knew that we would again need guidance on giving in the wake of a disaster so soon (well, perhaps Al Gore knew, but that’s fodder for a different commentary).  Even as many eastern states are still reeling from Sandy’s impact, many thoughtful philanthropists will begin wondering how to be most effective with their disaster giving.

So, allow me to re-issue the below commentary that describes the new Center for Disaster Philanthropy.  Take a moment to visit their “Hurricane Sandy Hub” where you can learn about the most current philanthropic and non-profit response, and the Center’s own Hurricane Sandy Disaster Fund.  Heck, you can even call them for advice on giving: (206) 972-0187.

Given our recent hurricane experiences, we now know that the recovery from Sandy must a relentless effort in the days and weeks to come.  So too can we anticipate the relentless fundraising pitches from non-profits claiming to be the lead in the recovery effort.  Private philanthropy will be key to the recovery, so please give — just be sure to give well.


When Tropical Storm Irene rampaged through Vermont one year ago today, it left homes flooded, fields covered in debris — and donors overwhelmed.  The charitable impulse was strong, but where to give?  What organization would use the funds most effectively?  Who understood the challenges on the ground, and had the trust of local communities to address them?

These are questions with which every donors struggles in the face of disaster.  From the earthquake in Haiti, to the tsunami in Japan, to Tropical Storm Irene, the question of how to strategically give surfaces with every breaking story of disaster.

In the midst of the chaos, we thankfully welcome the new Center for Disaster Philanthropy: The Center is being incubated by the New Venture Fund, with diverse private foundation funding and in-kind support from Arabella Advisors.  With a highly experienced board and staff, including former Guidestar CEO Robert G. Ottenhoff at the helm, the Center is poised for impact.

Concerned about Hurricane Isaac advancing up the coast?  Click on “Where” and read about the philanthropic collaborations gearing up.  Wondering what has happened in Haiti since the earthquake?  Read the update and review current recommendations for giving. Or, to prepare for the next disaster, peruse the best practices in disaster grantmaking.

For Vermont funders, Irene’s one year anniversary is also a time to recognize the Vermont Community Foundation‘s leadership in raising, managing and directing Irene-related philanthropic resources.  VCF’s Flood Response website makes it simple to track giving recommendations and funds available, plus their effort to make all the dollars in and dollars out as transparent as possible is laudable.

These two resources change the landscape of disaster giving significantly, however, a gap still remains for funders.  The question of how to resolve an unplanned gift for a disaster in the context of one’s other charitable giving still remains.  You might be moved to give in response to Hurricane Isaac, however, your pledge to the local capital campaign must be paid and you still want to be philanthropically active in the arts and environmental sectors.  What to do?  Above all else, stay focused.  Look for opportunities for disaster giving to dovetail with your identified priorities, and apply the knowledge you’ve developed from giving in a particular sector, for instance, the arts, to disaster giving within the same sector.

Despite all our wishes otherwise, we know that hurricanes will ravage the best laid plans, floods will wash good intentions away, and wildfires will burn holes in budgets every year.  However, philanthropists have the opportunity now to plan for the unplannable.

Leadership, Ethics, and Philanthropy: Handing the Torch to the Millennials

The Millennial Generation’s interest in volunteerism and community service is well-documented.  It’s safe to predict that this generation will serve as an example for us all of how to build lives around one’s personal values.  But where can Millennials go to take these ingrained interests to the next level?  How can they access the learning of existing leaders in the philanthropic and business sectors, and shape their own commitment to service-oriented leadership?  Former business management consultant Dave Aldrich has responded to that need by founding Grab The Torch.

This week-long camp provides the opportunity for diverse campers to explore topics centered around leadership, ethics and philanthropy.  In the words of one camper, “Grab the Torch camp taught me to have the guts to go and follow my passion without turning back.”  With camps happening in Vermont, Colorado and Connecticut, Aldrich is hoping to have significant impact on  the next generation of leaders.

The Vermont Community Foundation is partnering with Grab The Torch to make possible 20 full and partial scholarship opportunities for the 2012 Grab The Torch Leadership Ethics and Philanthropy Summer Camp Institute.  The scholarship opportunity is open to rising first year high school students to rising first year college students.  The 2012 camp is August 12-17 at the Bishop Booth Conference Center on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.  Speakers, site visits and panelists include:

  • Rick Davis, President, Permanent Fund for the Well-Being of Vermont Children;
  • Christine Zachai, Principal, Forward Philanthropy;
  • The Webb Family, founders of Shelburne Farms;
  • June Heston, Executive Director of the Burton’s Chill Foundation,
  • Burton Snowboard Factory;
  • Youth Trade;
  • Nan Peterson, the 2012 Service Learning Educator of The Year;
  • Hal Colston, Executive Director, Vermont Commission on National and Community Service;
  • Jon Isham and Heather Neuwirth, Middlebury College Center for Social Entrepreneurship;
  • Ben & Jerry’s;
  • Lois McClure, J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation;
  • Stu Comstock-Gay, President and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation;
  • Paul Schervish, Director, Boston College Wealth and Philanthropy Institute;
  • Ken Berger, President and CEO, Charity Navigator;
  • Lauren Curry, Executive Director of Tarrant Foundation

Applicants must be full or part time residents of Vermont. The application process can be found online at For additional information, contact Dave Aldrich at 781-864-5758 or