Instead of stepping into spring and the rituals of emerging from winter's slumber, today we are faced with a crisis that's unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Coronavirus has brought health systems around the world to the brink, and shuttered schools, restaurants, theme parks, and many other places around the world where we congregate. It has cost countless lives and caused havoc. Yet, much remains unknown about the virus itself, how it's spread, and who might contract it. The consequences of the pandemic are social and economic, and will likely be felt for some time to come.

The speed with which some parts of the global community has stepped up to heed the calls to action is a silver lining of sorts, a reminder of what Fred Rogers once said about looking for hope during times of uncertainty. "When I was a boy and saw scary things in the news, my mother would always say, "Look for the helpers. You'll always find people who are helping."

It is at times like this that philanthropy can really shine. While there has been legitimate criticism that philanthropy overall has not historically given biosecurity its proper due, there have been some encouraging immediate responses that we hope will yield a more thoughtful and sustained response over time. Locally, philanthropists large and small are donating funds, time and supplies, and coordinating efforts to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. And, at the global level, new partnerships are forming in an effort to advance the science that will facilitate detection, prevention, and treatment.

For high- and ultra-high-net-worth philanthropists, particularly those who have not engaged in large-scale philanthropy so far, this might seem overwhelming at first. However, there are a number of ways to put philanthropic capital to work immediately, and tackle the impact of coronavirus from a multitude of angles.

  1. Meeting medical and humanitarian needs: The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has launched a new fund to support COVID-19 response in areas with high numbers of affected individuals. Globally, medical supplies are short, and nonprofits play a critical role in equipping health workers with critical tools. This guide from Fidelity Charitable also provides a curated list of organizations working to meet immediate needs.
  2. Advancing science to diagnose, prevent, and treat COVID-19:  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation rallied quickly to mobilize efforts in this regard. Donors can co-fund alongside them by supporting the Combating COVID-19 Fund, which includes diagnostic and vaccine development, as well as the Therapeutics Accelerator Fund, which, in partnership with MasterCard and the Wellcome Trust will identify potential treatments and accelerate COVID-19 treatments.
  3. Building the nonprofit ecosystem: At the best of times, nonprofits struggle to raise enough capital to meet the needs of the communities they serve, let alone when galas and fundraising events are cancelled. Donors sometimes hesitate to provide unrestricted funding, but things are different now. Unrestricted funding helps by giving nonprofits a break from the "starvation cycle" allowing them to weather a crisis and continue to provide critical services to the people they serve. Consider prioritizing general operating funds or shifting existing program grants into general operating funds. Donors can also create rapid-response funds with simple application requirements (if any) to meet immediate needs and lessen the administrative burden on grantees by revising reporting requirements, including extending or removing deadlines.
  4. Working to bolster specific localities: The coronavirus crisis is highlighting that different communities have different needs require different solutions. Some community foundations are establishing pooled funds to provide meaningful assistance in their own communities, particularly if they listen to the community's needs and partner with local leaders.

COVID-19 Is laying bare the gaps caused by prolonged underinvestment in science, socioeconomic inequities, and so much more. This may be the moment that philanthropy once again steps up to be among the helpers, offering hope and results by showing value as a unique resource that can fill those gaps and create a better world.