Emily Geraghty/shutterstock
Emily Geraghty/shutterstock

Pandemics, like any disaster, strain individual, family, community and societal resources. We know COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for people who are older or have serious underlying medical conditions, but young and relatively healthy people are also vulnerable to infection and transmission. People in high-exposure jobs and those without sick leave, health insurance, savings, secure housing, affordable child care, social supports or other kinds of safety nets now face a variety of serious challenges.

Given the unequal wealth distribution in the U.S. and historic (and present-day) racial injustice and inequity, many people of color (POC) are in need of extra support as the coronavirus crisis deepens. This includes those who are black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), or of combined or different identities. In New York City and elsewhere, data is already revealing that communities of color have higher infection rates.

Compounded Risks for Communities of Color

Workers of color are more likely to be lower paid and under- or uninsured, and to end up unemployed or unable to afford time off in the COVID-19 era. “In terms of the economic situation, all you have to do is look around the corner and you can see that for us, for [POC], we are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce and in the very industries we already know to be taking serious hits,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, recently told MSN. According to the news site, about 42% of the country’s wait staff are POC, as are 57% of chefs and cooks, and 70% of hotel maids. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is maintaining a list of resources for restaurant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Marguerite Casey Foundation seeded an emergency income relief fund from Workers Lab that focuses on serving gig and undocumented workers.

People in the U.S. who are incarcerated are at higher risk for disease spread and are disproportionately POC. The Prison Policy Initiative released suggestions on how the criminal justice system can slow the pandemic’s spread, including by reducing the numbers of imprisoned people and improving correctional health care, among others. Its lead backers include the Public Welfare Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Open Society Foundations. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker co-authored a New York Times op-ed in late March with the Brooklyn district attorney and a former NYC health commissioner encouraging Governor Cuomo to release prisoners in order to address the public health crisis. Black Mama’s Bail Out is offering guidance on how to shift strategies for COVID-19 bailouts.

Immigrants, especially those who are detained or undocumented, face compounded hurdles to wellness at this time. The Transgender Law Center, in partnership with the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, recently called on ICE to release all people now detained, and for the Department of Homeland Security to shut down its centers, in response to COVID-19. The Transgender Law Center is backed by Fidelity Charitable, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Arcus Foundation, and others.

What else are funders doing to support POC and racial equity during COVID-19? What should they be doing? Writing in Nonprofit Quarterly, Lori Villarosa, executive director of Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) recommended funding for groups led by “and in deep relationships” with black, AAPI, Latinx and Native American communities, “including those approaching sexuality, gender, disability and other critical issues intersectionality. Collectively, these groups have so many of the transformative answers to ensure that our society overcomes the pandemic.” Funders who are already connected to these kinds of groups can follow their guidance. Funders who aren’t now have a new impetus and opportunity to reach out. PRE offers a variety of supports in this regard.

We see crowdfunding campaigns, community foundations, stalwart racial equity funders, affinity groups and other organizations offering COVID-19 funding and other kinds of responsive resources. This is a complex, quick-moving topic, and we’ll look at just a few current examples of funding in this vein that target people of specific races and ethnicities, acknowledging that many people’s identities expand beyond these categories. And there are more grants that seek to serve POC in general than a specific cohort.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

AAPI communities are facing hate crimes and bias that harm them in numerous ways, including by threatening their personal safety, mental health, and economic stability. “Even the children of our colleagues, as young as those in kindergarten, have been bullied by their classmates calling them ‘coronavirus,’” Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) stated.

One example of a locally-focused funder taking on this challenge is the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) in Oakland, California, which is offering a COVID-19 Emergency Community Fund. It aims to make sure working-class Asian immigrants and refugees “have what they need to stay home and stay healthy” during the pandemic. Its work in environmental justice focuses on refugees and immigrants and includes factors like the economy and housing, so this funding makes a lot of sense in the current situation.

On the other side of the country, a response fund for AAPI was launched by a major education funder—the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF), which recently announced a new grantmaking strategy with a racial equity lens. Its “Racism is a Virus, Too” fund will support locally-based organizations that provide services for AAPI communities.

The Asian American Impact Fund offered a small rapid-response grant for a nonprofit providing assistance to the API community, which closed March 22. A current GoFundMe seeks to support Asian elders in the Bay Community during the outbreak. The number of coronavirus-related campaigns on this platform rose 60% between March 20 and March 24.

Many of the rapid response funds emerging seek to include the AAPI community, while not exclusively focusing on them. For example, the Rapid Response Fund for Community Organizing from the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles County stated, “the effects of the coronavirus will be compounded for Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, and queer communities, as well as those living in persistent poverty, immigrants and our elders.”

Funds that intend to serve immigrants and refugees, especially in urban areas, will connect with diverse populations, including some AAPI communities. The deep-pocketed $75 million NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation and many more, will back New York City-based social services and arts and cultural organizations affected by COVID-19.

While some funders and nonprofits are providing direct financial aid, others are carrying out and supporting crucial social justice documentation and advocacy. For example, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, whose lead funders include Ford, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and the California Endowment, is tracking hate speech and actions. A coalition of groups backed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (the Advancement Project, National Office; Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum; Demos; Faith in Action; NAACP; National Congress of American Indians; National Urban League; Race Forward; and Unidos U.S.) have denounced discrimination against AAPI communities.

Black Communities

In 2016, grants for POC made up just 10% of domestic funding, when considering grants over $10,000 from the largest 1,000 U.S. foundations. These funding inequities, in turn, reflect entrenched patterns of structural racism and wealth inequality in U.S. society which has its roots in slavery.

Many funders are now seeking to serve POC and low-income communities, in general, in response to the current coronavirus situation. While they don’t specify black people, given the country’s demographics and economics, black people will often make up a large proportion of their recipients. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of action in this realm in New York, like the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund we mentioned. And Robin Hood plans to make three-month, $45,000 COVID-19 relief grants to NYC nonprofits that “are well-positioned to serve low-income communities.” The North Star Fund launched the Future of Organizing Fund to support direct assistance and grassroots organizing in NYC and Hudson Valley communities in response to COVID-19.

The Emergent Fund, a partnership between Solidaire Network, Women Donors Network, Threshold Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance, is raising money for a national “People’s Bailout” in response to COVID-19, which includes a focus on black people. According to Candid, it is “committed to acting swiftly and responsively with deep trust in Indigenous, Black and POC organizers, and those closest to the harm.” Several branches of Black Lives Matter are running GoFundMe’s in response to COVID-19, including in D.C. and Toronto. The Black Belt Community Foundation, which funds many black-led and -serving nonprofits in Alabama, has launched a Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The nonprofit Color of Change is busy advocating for policy-makers to prioritize serving black communities. It recently teamed up with BET to provide ongoing updates, resources and calls to action for black people. Color of Change’s top backers include Ford, Kellogg, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. The NAACP, which shares many of the same supporters, is also promoting a racial justice lens in coronavirus responses.

Hispanic/Latinx Communities

Like other racial groups we’ve covered, people who are Hispanic and/or immigrants and/or in economic distress will be able to access some of the broadly-focused rapid-response grants in play. But some funding has also surfaced that specifically serves these populations.

Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) created two emergency funds in response to COVID-19. “While we are collectively doing our part to flatten the curve and ensure that our families and elders are taken care of, let us not lose sight that these investments will help respond to increased vulnerabilities in migrant communities and assist in ensuring a fair census count for underserved groups,” Ana Marie Argilagos, HIP’s President and CEO, said. The Rapid Response Migration Fund plans to give out at least $200,000 in mini-grants to help front-line migrant-serving organizations. The Civic Participation Fund is a rapid response grant pool serving grassroots nonprofits working to ensure Latinos are counted.

The Latino Community Foundation in California has established a “Love Not Fear Fund” regarding the pandemic. It exists to support Latino-led organizations “that provide wrap-around services to the most vulnerable, especially undocumented seniors living in the Inland Empire and Central Valley and families that have already lost wages.”

An up-close-and-personal example of how the current coronavirus is affecting Latina domestic workers can be seen in this GoFundMe, which seeks to help a group of nine women deal with a loss of house-cleaning work, with a $3,000 fundraising goal. It quotes Stephanie Land of The New York Times, who wrote, “The estimated 2.5 million domestic workers in this country are an invisible, undervalued population. Those who work in our homes are human beings who, in the face of COVID-19, have no child care, no income and will probably face severe housing insecurity in the months to come.” The National Domestic Workers Alliance is running a Coronavirus Care Fund.

During the time of COVID-19, immigration-focused nonprofits are playing a crucial role in helping vulnerable populations, including those traveling North into the U.S. RAICES in Texas offers an extensive list of “Resources for Immigrant Community during COVID-19.” Meanwhile, it continues to carry out advocacy and provide detention and DACA legal services, refugee resettlement assistance, and more. Some of its top foundation backers include the William Penn Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and MacArthur, among others. Freedom for Immigrants is running a COVID-19 Detention Hotline and Toolkit with a goal to “to report on ICE’s response to COVID-19 in order to bolster calls for release.”

A 2011 Foundation Center report found, over the previous decade, U.S. foundation dollars directed toward Latinx populations made up about 1% of all foundation funding. To explore the more recent landscape of foundation funding in the Latinx community, see this resource from Candid and HIP.

Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities bear the oldest wounds from the colonization of the Americas, which have numerous ongoing repercussions, yet they receive only a minuscule portion of foundation giving (0.4%). A key player in the realm of Native-focused philanthropy is Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP). Along with the National Urban Indian Family Coalition and the Decolonizing Wealth Project (launched by NAP Board Chair Edgar Villanueva), NAP has created a rapid-response fund to provide emergency support for the most vulnerable Native Americans impacted by COVID-19. The fund is hosted by Liberated Capital, a giving circle Villanueva runs through the online platform Grapevine, and it aims to raise $250,000. NAP also offers a COVID-1 resource library for Native communities. In 2019, then-CEO of NAP Sarah Eagle Heart told us, “We work with dozens of foundations, but are close partners with the Ford Foundation, Kellogg Foundation and California Endowment.”

Examples of crowdfunding campaigns for indigenous communities include this GoFundMe that targets the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservations, and this PayPal fundraiser supporting “Disabled Indigenous folx.” NAP, the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, and International Funders for Indigenous Peoples have released a “Joint Statement on Collective Care in Response to COVID-19” that is grounded in “The Four R’s of Indigenous Philanthropy:” respect, reciprocity, responsibility and relationships. To learn about increasing giving to Native communities, see NAP and Candid’s online resource.

Other COVID-Related Funding

The progressive DAF powerhouse Tides has already processed over $10 million in relation to COVID-19 and is coordinating several ongoing related funds. Candid is compiling grant opportunities from community foundations and others in response to this epidemic, and many of them seek to serve communities of color, without further specifying a grantee identity. These include the Park City Community Foundation in Utah, The Innovia Foundation in Idaho, Greater Washington Community Foundation, and more.

The Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund (the first of its kind in the country) has galvanized more than $15 million from a growing list of public and private partners. It seeks to prioritize POC, those who are undocumented, and others, with a general goal to support “local workers and families most affected by the coronavirus crisis.” Co-funders include Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Connie and Steve Ballmer, Bezos Family Foundation, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.

The Schott Foundation in Massachusetts, where Villanueva is Senior Vice President of Programs and Advocacy, created the Loving Communities Response Fund in partnership with the Journey for Justice Alliance, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, and others. It states the groups it backs “come from generations of people grounded in community, organized and resilient in the face of structural violence and institutionalized racism.”

Candid also publishes grants for individuals, businesses, artists and more during this difficult era. Giving Compass and the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) are sharing funds addressing COVID-19-related needs. NCFP has mapped more than 200 local funding opportunities. The Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative offers another list of community foundation COVID-19 funds, which it states now total more than $285 million.

Of course, outside the realm of community support and racial justice, many foundations and wealthy individual givers are stepping up to support COVID-19 research and medical responses on a massive scale (find more of our ongoing COVID-19 coverage here). A lot of funders of social justice and other causes are responding to the crisis by extending grant periods, loosening funding restrictions, and exploring and sharing best practices within the field. Many are easing application processes and ramping up general operating support. The Robert Sterling Clark Foundation is giving an extra year of funding to its grantees. The Lumina Foundation is accelerating payout on approved grants.

And there is an extensive network of mutual aid sprouting up around the country, in which neighbors unite and coordinate to help one another. Many of these efforts are tracked in this, “Database of Localized Resources During COVID 19 Outbreak,” which also links to information on population-specific supports, best practices and more.

POC also give and receive through church groups, giving circles and informal networks. Philanthropy Together (the newly-named giving circle-infrastructure-initiative on which we’ve reported), recently shared, “COVID-19 Resources for Giving Circles.” Suggestions for circles include centering vulnerable populations, tending to members’ own needs, hosting pop-up circles, and more.

“Think about the prisoners, seniors, immunocompromised, undocumented, uninsured, caregivers and everyone whose work is going to be hit (small businesses, retail, hospitality, artists and so many more). Does your circle help support groups that help these populations? If not, what groups can you support that do?” Seiji Carpenter of Radfund in NYC said.

As needs in communities of color grow more urgent, greater giving will be needed—surely more money can be loosed from foundation endowments and the richest of us (the government response is a whole other story). But meanwhile, the new institutional funding commitments, community-level generosity and organic, interpersonal aid blossoming at this juncture bring to mind that, as Villanueva observed in his book, Decolonizing Wealth, philanthropy’s Greek roots mean “love for humanity.” This message is worth keeping in mind as we weather the storms ahead and practice old and new ways of showing up for and sharing resources with our literal and figurative neighbors. Supporting POC and following their leadership are crucial strategies for our beleaguered country as we all try to practice solidarity and resilience during this difficult time.

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