The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a globe-spanning health and socio-economic crisis. However, the contagion’s impact hits most directly at the local level, where it amplifies pre-existing racial, cultural, and economic disparities that are likely to deepen even after the pandemic begins to subside. Some of the initial data are dispiriting: As of early April, Black Americans represented 81 percent of COVID-19 related fatalities in Milwaukee County, whose population is 26 percent Black; in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, Black residents accounted for 58 percent of COVID-19 fatalities, despite representing just 23 percent of the population.

Vulnerable urban as well as rural communities—where residents have long confronted chronic poverty and living conditions that contribute to poor health—will require customized responses that best meet their specific challenges, even with the $2 trillion that the federal government is funneling to groups affected by the pandemic. Community-focused philanthropies, through their deep connections to local organizations, are uniquely positioned to help other philanthropists, mission-driven corporations, and government agencies identify critical community needs and channel vital resources effectively.

Community-focused funders can also fill the gaps in government supports—and many are rushing to do so. As of April 13, there were more than 400 COVID-19 funds across the country, often sponsored by community foundations or other intermediaries that have a close-up view of their communities’ on-the-ground conditions.

For the most part, these rapid-response funds lean into two types of giving: supporting individuals’ and families’ critical baseline needs for food, housing and cash assistance, with a special focus on those who are most at-risk; and stabilizing community organizations, such as by converting current restricted grants to general operating support.

To better understand not only what philanthropy is doing, but also how it is abetting organizations that are working shoulder to shoulder with those most vulnerable to COVID-19’s assault, we connected with more than a dozen community-focused philanthropies. Their replies, combined with what we have gleaned from advising place-based philanthropies and community organizations, helped us surface four actionable ways for funders to support local communities as they work through this most critical phase and prepare for an eventual recovery from the pandemic and the recession.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. Our hope is simply that if these recommendations resonate with funders and foundations, they might put them to work—fast.

Read the full article about community-focused philanthropy by Debby Bielak and Willa Seldon at The Bridgespan Group.