Hrecheniuk Oleksii/shutterstock

Hrecheniuk Oleksii/shutterstock

Many women face multiple challenges during the pandemic, including increased family responsibilities, domestic abuse, job loss, poverty, and risk of illness in frontline jobs. Women are carrying out essential work like nursing, food service, child care or cleaning without adequate protective equipment, paid leave or healthcare. And women are taking on even more of society’s informal caretaking roles, even as their access to support networks, social services and reproductive healthcare diminish.

Black women and other women of color, women who are poor, undocumented, LGBTQ+, those who have differing abilities, are elderly or homeless, girls, and people who don’t conform to the gender binary often face barriers to wellness during normal times. The pandemic has put them at greater risk.

Yet members of these diverse communities also hold deep experience in community organizing and social justice movements. How are funders and other nonprofits stepping up to fill the gaps in public support for these groups, catalyze their leadership, and go beyond business as usual? Here, we take a look at a range of recent efforts by philanthropy to support the needs of U.S. women in the face of COVID-19. (An earlier post explored funder support for girls in the Global South.) A strong national network of women’s funders has been at the forefront of this activity, and many other philanthropic players have pitched in. General operating support and leadership by impacted communities are recurring themes in urgent work now unfolding across the United States.

A Growing National Response

Like philanthropy’s response to the pandemic writ large, efforts to mobilize support for women include both national and local initiatives—and focus on a range of needs.

For example, the Collective Future Fund launched a $2 million rapid-response fund with a nationwide focus on people who experience gender-based violence. Its partners include CBS, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, General Service Foundation, Kapor Center, Nathan Cummings Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Open Society Foundations (OSF) and more.

The Avon Foundation for Women, which supports abuse survivors around the world, including in the U.S., pledged $1 million to nonprofits providing services like helplines and refuges. It is also engaging its millions of reps in a communications campaign to inform, identify and support women at risk. The nonprofit FreeFrom, which serves domestic violence survivors, launched a Safety Fund providing survivors emergency cash grants with a $75,000 goal. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). Its major backers include the NFL, TJX, Columbus, Allstate and NoVo Foundations.

The Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights established the COVID Crisis Fund for Feminist Activists, which supports both U.S. and international groups. Since March, it has supported formerly and currently incarcerated women in California who are campaigning for the release of elderly prisoners, and the Washington, D.C., trans community.

The Groundswell Fund is upping resources and capacity-building support for grantees and making deadlines flexible, among other responses. More dollars will flow through its rapid-response funds to support a “pivot of organizing and voter engagement campaigns from in-person to digital strategies,” as well as mutual aid. It will also increase payout through its Birth Justice Fund, which backs community-based midwifery and doula practices that enable birth outside of hospitals. Through Merck for Mothers, Merck is also focusing on maternal care—it will provide $3 million in the U.S. and abroad to help health systems better care for pregnant women while tackling COVID-19.

In terms of sexual and reproductive health, as we recently reported, some states are banning nonessential medical procedures, and several have applied these bans to abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, abortion service providers and others are challenging the new COVID-19-related bans in court. (See our story on abortion-rights funders to learn more about the funders backing these nonprofits’ work.)

Women perform a majority of low-pay, domestic and healthcare jobs, and early data show they are also experiencing a majority of pandemic layoffs. Some national funding efforts are supporting women’s business efforts and the economic stability of working families. The Visa Foundation pledged $210 million to support small and micro-businesses, with a focus on women. Spanx and the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation donated $5 million in the wake of COVID-19, teaming up with GlobalGiving to create the Red Backpack Fund for U.S. female entrepreneurs.

The Ford Foundation, Schmidt Futures, OSF, JPB Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Amalgamated Foundation are running a Families and Workers Fund, with an initial commitment of $7.1 million and an aim to raise $20 million. It intends to help families economically in the short term and support policy and advocacy efforts “that center workers and families in long-term economic recovery.”

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is running a Coronavirus Care Fund to provide relief to domestic workers across the U.S. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is maintaining a list of funds and other resources for restaurant workers. Children of Restaurant Employees is offering financial support to families of people diagnosed with COVID-19. (See more of our coverage of giving for restaurant workers here.) The Marguerite Casey Foundation seeded an emergency income relief fund from Workers Lab that focuses on serving gig and undocumented workers.

Members of Home Grown, a national funding collaborative, committed $1.2 million to a Home-Based Child Care Emergency Fund. Partners include the Heising-Simons Foundation, Klingenstein Philanthropies, MAEVA Social Capital, Imaginable Futures (an Omidyar Network venture firm), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.

#FirstRespondersFirst is a multi-funder effort to “provide essential supplies, equipment, accommodations, child care, food, mental health support and other resources for protecting front-line health care workers and their patients.” Partners include the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global, the CAA Foundation, Entertainment Industry Foundation, Americares, World Central Kitchen, Bright Horizons and more.

State and Local Funders Mobilize

Women’s foundations, funds and giving circles are stalwart supporters of the women and families in their communities. Elizabeth Barajas-Román, Women’s Funding Network (WFN) president and CEO, says, grantmakers “should partner with local and state women’s funds and foundations” in response to the pandemic. “With members in nearly every state in the U.S. and 11 countries, WFN can also help make connections.”

The Women’s Foundation of Boston launched a Response Fund to benefit women and girls. An anonymous donor has stepped up to match every dollar donated to the fund up to $500,000. The Texas Women’s Foundation started a Resilience Fund. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has a COVID-19 Women & Girls Response Fund that will make a half-million dollars in emergency grants of up to $10,000. It is also converting all future grants to general operations.

The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham offers a Rapid Operating and Relief (ROAR) for Women Fund to benefit at-risk child care centers serving essential workers. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado has a fund for COVID-19 relief and recovery, which will provide $320,000 in rapid-response grants. The Colorado Health Foundation invested $500,000 in this women’s foundation to address gender inequities during the pandemic.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation is dedicating $6.8 million to support Californians impacted by COVID-19. The Women’s Foundation of California will receive $1.45 million of this money in support of domestic violence shelter organizations. It runs a general Relief and Resilience Fund that offers flexible rapid-response funding to grantees. Also, it will continue to support its Women’s Policy Institute participants and their policy efforts through online programs.

Community foundations are vital to local nonprofit ecosystems—they have mobilized more than $536 million for COVID-19 response so far. Many of these giving initiatives will help women. The Brooklyn Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund has already given out $625,500 to 64 frontline organizations, including the Alex House Project, to support pregnant young women and new young parents.

Many major grantmakers are contributing to regional funding efforts that support vulnerable communities at this time, like the deep-pocketed $75 million NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund, which is backing New York City-based social services and arts and cultural organizations. The Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund has galvanized more than $20 million from a growing list of major public and private partners. Also in Seattle, the Plate Fund, founded by the Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, United Way of King County, local public offices and others, is offering $500 to restaurant workers who have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic. While many of these local and regional funds are not women-specific, they will benefit many women and families in need.

Giving circles are predominantly made up of women and can serve as powerful community conveners and change-makers. Philanthropy Together (the newly named giving circle infrastructure initiative on which we’ve reported), recently shared its COVID-19 Resources for Giving Circles.

“During a disaster—and specifically, this pandemic—time is of the essence,” Philanthropy Together Executive Director Sara Lomelin says. “Giving circles are hyper-local, deeply understand the needs of a community, and can activate rapid-response funding and rally support for the women’s and girls’ organizations so often overlooked by institutional philanthropy.” Giving circles often serve communities united by race, ethnicity, religion or LGBTQ+ status—below, we share insights from Hali Lee, founder of the Asian Women Giving Circle in New York, on best coronavirus responses.

A Focus on Vulnerable Groups

The New York Women’s Foundation launched an LGBTQ-inclusive Resilience NYC: COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund, providing $1 million in grants to help organizations meet the needs of “girls, women, [transgender, gender-nonconforming and gender nonbinary] people, and their families.”

The Third Wave Fund, Trans Justice Funding Project, Borealis Philanthropy’s Fund for Trans Generations, Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ Grantmakers United for Trans Communities and Destination Tomorrow’s TRANScend Community Impact Fund released a joint statement on their commitment to trans communities at this time. See more of our coverage of how some funders are supporting LGBTQ+ communities here.

Many feminist leaders have pointed out that this pandemic exacerbates and exposes the entrenched racial and gender imbalances in the U.S. in regard to pay, health and more. Kalpana Krishnamurthy, program director of Forward Together, says, “We need to proactively support [women of color]-led groups and resist the reactionary approach that happens in philanthropy during a crisis to retract [their] funding.” Krishnamurthy, who also serves on the board of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE), calls for more general operating support, and also for funders to increase their giving at this time.

The imprisonment rate for black women is twice that of white women. Black Mamas Bail Out and National Bail Out started their Mother’s Day campaigns early this year and will run them through May.

Ava DuVernay and her foundation Array Alliance created a $250,000 Array Grants program in response to COVID-19. It will back organizations and individuals “dedicated to narrative change of women and people of color.” This GoFundMe is for women of color who are artists or creatives.

Masha Chernyak, vice president of programs and policy at the Latino Community Foundation in California, says foundations lack Latina leadership and should “trust Latina leadership, for real. Invest in Latina-led nonprofits closest to the pain and the solutions.” Her foundation established a “Love Not Fear Fund” in response to the pandemic.

Hispanics in Philanthropy and Justice for Migrant Women joined to create the Emergency Pandemic Fund for Farmworkers. This spreadsheet aggregates “COVID-19 Resources for Undocumented Immigrants.” It includes groups like Yo Soy Ella, which offers free talk therapy for women in Spanish and English. We recently reported on funders working to help immigrants now and in the long run.

Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) and numerous other grantmakers and philanthropic entities released a letter calling on philanthropy to end violence and bias related to the coronavirus. The Asian Women Giving Circle is a signatory, and we talked to its founder, Lee, who is also co-director of the Donors of Color Network. Like many in the sector these days, she upholds increased and general operating support. “If possible, consider [non-(c)(3)] mutual aid networks and funds that prioritize support for API women and gender-nonconforming or gender-expansive communities,” she says. She also calls on grantmakers to “support advocacy and systemic reform.”

Many Indigenous communities and tribes lack of adequate water and healthcare infrastructure. Meanwhile, the prevalence of multigenerational family homes can make distancing close to impossible. Edgar Villanueva, who is board chair of Native Americans in Philanthropy and senior vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation in Massachusetts, says, “Indigenous women are on the front lines of response efforts in our communities. They are elders, mothers, medical professionals, tribal leaders, protectors, nonprofit executives, activists and entrepreneurs—sometimes all at once.” NAP created a rapid-response fund to provide emergency support for the most vulnerable Native Americans and offers a COVID-19 resource library for Native communities.

Vanessa Roanhorse is the CEO of Roanhorse Consulting, which co-founded Native Women Lead. She recommends funders reach out to Native-led organizations and their larger allies, such as NAP. She also says funders can contact Native community centers and chambers of commerce directly. “Guaranteed, there are probably already coalitions forming in their community that are led by Native-led organizations and that are coordinated with tribal leaders,” she says.

Among many suggestions, Roanhorse also recommends funders give general operating support, engage in public-private partnerships, and consider giving money to groups without (c)(3) status as well as individual women. Her organization created an online hub of resources and will soon be launching a new Matriarch Response Fund in response that will provide loans and grants to Native women entrepreneurs.

Monique W. Morris is the executive director of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a collaborative that includes the NoVo Foundation, Foundation for a Just Society, Ms. Foundation for Women, New York Women’s Foundation, Communities for Just Schools Fund and others. Her ideas for funders who want to help girls of color at this time include supporting educational access, “culturally-responsive mental health services [and] improved protection from gender-based violence and sexual assault,” as well as supporting girls in institutions and group homes.

Arlene Segal is the project coordinator for Philly Families Connect, a program of the Supportive Older Women’s Network (SOWN). She says older women and their home health aides may both be afraid to interact right now, and that many older women lack the tech skills for telemedicine or to help grandchildren with homework. SOWN supports grandparents raising grandchildren, comprising mostly women, and is now providing phone based-support groups.

Along with backing locally based nonprofits like SOWN, she says funders could also support community gardens, social distancing campaigns, telemedicine programs, internet access and safe outdoor recreation for youth. SOWN is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, William Penn Foundation, and more. The National Council on Aging’s Covid-19 Community Response Fund seeks to help older women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ seniors, among others.

Women Enabled International, Disabled Women in Africa and others released a “Statement on Rights at the Intersection of Gender and Disability during COVID-19.” Women Enabled International’s funders include Fidelity Charitable, Ford and OSF.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for the disabled, offers a variety of resources on Inclusive Philanthropy. Its top backers include Ford, the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, and the Houston Jewish Community Foundation. The Disability Inclusion Fund at Borealis Philanthropy launched a $200,000 rapid-response fund. And this online guide offers a variety of COVID-19 disability community preparedness resources.

Women Philanthropists and Other Giving Strategies

Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation provided $5 million to Direct Relief, Feeding America, Partners in Health and others. She also teamed up with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey to help domestic violence survivors.

The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which Taraji P. Henson started to support black mental health, is offering free virtual therapy sessions during the pandemic. Oprah Winfrey, Kylie Jenner, Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé, Dolly Parton and many other famous women have also stepped up—see our recent coverage of celebrity responses. Lady Gaga and a crew of other stars recently created “One World: Together At Home” in partnership with Global Citizen, which raised almost $128 million in COVID-19-relief aid.

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and her fiancé Tom Bernthal launched a push to raise millions for food bank services in Silicon Valley. Many other powerful philanthropic couples are responding to the virus, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Steve and Connie Ballmer, Ray and Barbara Dalio, and Nicholas and Susan Pritzker. Women athletes are also contributing at this time, including Simone Biles, who has joined the Athletes for Relief effort. Other women athletes giving back at this time include Julie Ertz, Megan Rapinoe and Kealia Ohai.

Anonymous Was A Woman (AWAW) is distributing $250,000 in grants to women-identifying visual artists over 40 who have been impacted by COVID-19. The International Women’s Media Foundation is running the COVID-19 Journalism Relief Fund, which is open to women-identifying journalists. See other efforts to shore up journalism during the pandemic here.

There are also multiple funds across the U.S. that support sex workers, including the COVID-19 Response Fund for sex workers in the D.C. area and the Bay Area’s Worker Support Emergency Grant Fund. COVID-19 Sex Worker Harm Reduction Resources for the U.S. are available here.

Women are also busy sewing masks to protect essential workers through networks like Sewing for Lives. Days for Girls, a global nonprofit that produces washable menstrual hygiene kits, shifted gears to sewing masks through a campaign called #Masks4Millions. And numerous women are running and participating in the mutual aid networks sprouting up among neighbors throughout the U.S.

In a recent Forbes article, “Putting a Gender Lens on COVID-19: Thought Leaders Weigh In,” a recurring point was that advocacy for systems change must accompany direct relief. Participants raised topics including equal pay, voting rights, the Equal Rights Amendment and gender justice curricula.

Barajas-Román of the Women’s Funding Network tells us, “[Existing] economic, gender, racial and societal inequities will not only linger, they will be exacerbated by the COVID crisis. We need women, and women of color, at decision-making tables to ensure that the disparate impact COVID is having on gender and race is assessed and addressed.”

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