What does philanthropy look like in the middle of a pandemic?

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November 30, 2020

By Laura Rossi–

With the giving season officially underway and Giving Tuesday on December 1st fast approaching, the question looms large. For the wealthy, it may mean some changes around the edges but, overall, those who have given generously over the years have continued to do so. Major donations to large charities remain strong. But what does philanthropy look like for everyone else when budgets are tight, workers are furloughed, and savings are under pressure?

Community foundations like the Westchester Community Foundation, which was founded more than 45 years ago to improve the quality of life through philanthropy in Westchester County, are in a unique position to respond to local needs by connecting donors to causes. But so many donors in our communities wonder if they can afford to give during these uncertain times. They know that government has helped some, but so much has fallen through the cracks.

Yet even during this pandemic, people come to us at the Westchester Community Foundation asking, “Where is the greatest need, and how can I help?”

We tell them that our foundation welcomes every gift to support many active community funds that support those in need. By combining donations‒however small or large‒we have greater impact.  Of course, there are tax benefits associated with charitable giving. But our donors tell us they find more satisfaction knowing their gift may go toward childcare expenses for a frontline worker, tech support for a nonprofit, or emergency cash assistance for a family.

One example is the response we received to an appeal for our COVID-19 Response Fund. Donations ranged from $5 to $1 million and totaled $2 million to assist scores of local organizations providing key support services and meeting important county needs as outlined in the graphs here on the funds allocated thus far.

One recipient of our COVID-19 Respond Fund grants was the Long Term Care Community Coalition, led by Executive Director Richard Mollott, which works to improve the quality of care and life in congregate care settings like nursing homes. The Coalition used $14K in grant dollars to help highlight the needs of residents living in isolation to their families.  Another recipient of our donations was the Housing Action Council in Tarrytown, led by Rose Noonan, which increases and improves housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income households and populations with special needs. The Council used $14K in grant money to upgrade their technology to facilitate council staff working remotely in order to continue addressing county housing needs.

Our foundation also invests time in educating the community about giving through important virtual forums. For example, we recently held a virtual conversation on Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919), a successful entrepreneur, millionaire, and smart, effective philanthropist who made her home in Irvington-on-Hudson, just north of New York City. Madam Walker, the daughter of slaves, was born free. Orphaned young, married and widowed young, a single mother and poor during the Jim Crow era, her options as a black woman were notably limited. Yet, with the support and guidance of black women in churches and civic organizations, she eventually launched a national beauty and hair care business. She did not focus solely on the bottom line. Rather, she encouraged her sales agents to contribute to charity to uplift their race and to benefit the community. She provided careers for thousands of African American women. In addition, she personally supported the causes and organizations that helped her on her path to success.

What is worth noting about Madam Walker’s story is that she did not wait until she was wealthy to give back. She gave what she could ‒ her time, talent, and resources ‒ when she could. She is a great role model for so many at this time.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on families, businesses, and communities, it is important that we recognize that we can make a meaningful difference in more people’s lives if we work together. After all, everyone can be a philanthropist, especially during a pandemic. To learn how to help or make a donation, visit https://www.wcf-ny.org/.


Laura Rossi is Executive Director of the Westchester Community Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for all in Westchester County.

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