Equity at the Center of Philanthropy’s Response to COVID-19


Equity at the Center of Philanthropy’s Response

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What are some of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to issues of equity for Michigan communities? 

Effectively addressing the COVID-19 pandemic requires each of us to understand the equity implications for the most vulnerable in our communities. When schools close, businesses require employees to remain home and commerce and industry at all levels feel the pain of an economic slowdown, the impact across Michigan communities is even more significant for underrepresented and underserved populations. For Michigan families, children and seniors without access to affordable health care, paid sick leave and safe drinking water, the consequences are significant. We are being called upon to play crucial, even life-saving roles together in partnership with nonprofits and government.   

The pandemic has unearthed new challenges and exposed existing inequities in Michigan and around the nation—in many cases exacerbating established problems that have historically affected underrepresented populations, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), those living in low-income parts of Michigan (including urban, rural, and suburban communities), low-wage workers, people with disabilities, and people without documentation. Indeed, the challenges facing underrepresented communities were not created by the pandemic, but they have been magnified because of it. Michigan philanthropy has a role in addressing these challenges.  

The pandemic is being experienced in the context of systemic racial disparities illuminated by recent events across the country, including trauma caused by centuries of oppression suffered by BIPOC. Racial equity for all people is needed in order to create equal opportunity for well-being and a more just society. Recent civic action around police brutality has reaffirmed the need to focus on the disparate treatment of individuals in Michigan. Addressing these disparities requires that we identify and disrupt structures of systemic racism and recognition that such disparities are not the result of failings by underrepresented groups, but rather the result of structural failures. 

In the CMF Download we discussed the alarming racial disparities surfacing amid COVID-19. In Michigan, more than 40% of COVID-19 related deaths have been African Americans, and yet only 14% of our state’s population are African Americans. We also highlighted the state task force focusing specifically on COVID-19 racial disparities.  

An article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Foundations and Nonprofits See Crisis as Opportunity to Advance Equity” highlights some of the ways foundations are putting equity at the center of their short- and long-term COVID-19 response efforts, including several CMF members. 

The resources below come from our national partners and organizations connected to philanthropy and social justice. These connections are just a sampling of the response coming from the philanthropic community. If you are looking for more information on these or other issues connected to equity and COVID-19, we invite you to reach out to the CMF staff. 

The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) published a call for grantmakers to use a racial justice lens in planning and implementing COVID-19 crisis response. Lori Villarosa, executive director, shares, “Many grantmakers have stepped up, and we have already witnessed many admirable interventions. But in acting quickly and decisively, it is vital that philanthropic responses don’t inadvertently perpetuate and exacerbate existing bias, racial inequity, and injustice through their giving.”

The NAACP has released “Ten Equity Implications of the COVID 19 Pandemic in the United States: The Imperative for Civil Rights Advocacy, Monitoring, and Enforcement,” a resource “to guide officials responsible for addressing health, economic, and other impacts, in remediating some of the issues that are disproportionately affecting communities of color.”  

The Disability and Philanthropy Forum shares, “philanthropy has a critical role to play in ensuring that the disability community is not left behind.” They have identified key disability issues connected to COVID-19 and pulled together a variety of resources, ranging from practices for hosting for accessible virtual meetings to articles by and for the disability community.  

Our colleagues at Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) announced two emergency funds “to help Latino organizations offset unexpected costs incurred by the rapidly-changing situation concerning COVID-19 and its effects worldwide specifically in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean.” The COVID-19 Rapid Response Migration Fund will award at least $200,000 in mini-grants to help frontline migrant-serving organizations develop and launch emergency protocols, cover unexpected costs due to office closures or disrupted revenue streams, increase agility in services and advocacy, and address other unforeseen impacts of the ongoing pandemic. HIP’s Civic Participation fund addresses the critical issues at stake for a fair and accurate 2020 Census to ensure Latinos are counted. 

CMF’s partners in the United Philanthropy Forum, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, shares, “The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact in LGBTQ communities and other marginalized communities. During this crisis, Funders for LGBTQ Issues is committed to our mission of increasing the scale and impact of philanthropic resources aimed at enhancing the well-being of LGBTQ communities, promoting equity, and advancing racial, economic and gender justice.” They have provided an array of informational supports on their website, including rapid response and emergency fund listings, guidance for funders and resources specific to the LGBTQ Movement. 

Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) has also launched a resource page on COVID-19. They feature reports on the impact of COVID-19 on immigrants, a listing of response funds and articles for their members. In their national convening, as speakers discussed the issues, it was noted that “COVID-19 is both an equalizer and a magnifier of disparities, simultaneously showing how we are all interconnected and that those who are most vulnerable in our society bear a disproportionate burden in an emergency.” It was further noted that, “Immigrants, refugees, and asylum will be challenged on multiple fronts, as many work in industries particularly impacted by this pandemic and lack the benefits and options available to others in responding, from paid sick days to working from home.” 

Our colleagues with Native Americans in Philanthropy has launched a Native American Community Response Fund “to generously support Native American nonprofits on the ground who are caring for our most vulnerable – those facing food insecurity, access to housing, and low-income elderly.”NAP is partnering with the Decolonizing Wealth Project and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition in establishing the fund.  

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How is CMF helping to keep equity at the forefront of philanthropy's response to COVID-19?

CMF signed onto a joint statement from philanthropy serving organizations on the importance of keeping equity at the forefront in philanthropy’s response to the coronavirus. As philanthropy leaders who come together under the umbrella of United Philanthropy Forum representing more than 7,000 funders, we are committed to helping our sector respond effectively, and in doing so, we are particularly attentive to ways in which this outbreak may exacerbate inequities. Together we are calling on everyone in philanthropy to continue doing all you can to ensure that our communities and our country address the coronavirus outbreak in ways that are as equitable and fair as possible. 

We invite you to read a letter from CMF President and CEO Kyle Caldwell sent to our community of philanthropy, sharing reflections on seeing inequity  particularly in regard to infection and fatality rates noting, “We are called to step up to the challenges and complexities of equity in every aspect of our leadership and of our lives.” 

Other articles include: 

-Philanthropy’s Role in Education Equity and the Return to Learn: A Conversation with The Skillman Foundation 
-TRHT Kalamazoo Advocates for Housing Ordinances to Address Structural Racism 
-Equity Considerations for the Return to School 
-An Inside Look at Racial and Economic Equity Data 
-The Strain of the Pandemic on Child Care Providers and Working Families 

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How can our foundation help combat the racism and xenophobia seen in connection with this crisis?

Our sector, as trusted and engaged leaders sharing truth and serving as the conscience of communities, will need to provide clear, thoughtful guidance and accurate information, and we must be concerned with basic decency as we see language and behavior swirling during this crisis that have strong racial and xenophobic overtones. We can all help raise awareness that nothing about the virus is race-based. Our colleague philanthropic network Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy encourage us to remind ourselves and others around us not to project fears of the virus onto marginalized groups or spread unfounded associations. 

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How are foundations helping to create broad access to information for communities?

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is partnering with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in its efforts to ensure all members of the community have access to resources and critical information about minimizing exposure to and spreading COVID-19. “Lack of multi-language translation and interpretation of information further exacerbates the public health pandemic we are facing,” said Adnoris ‘Bo’ Torres, executive director of the center. 

The two have teamed up to specifically to support multilingual translation and interpretation services. 

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Have a question?

These FAQ's are designed to address grantmakers' questions related to their role in preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and related period of economic volatility. Included in the Q&A responses below are samples, tools, articles, reports and other resources. Our team is also working closely in partnership with the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) and Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW) to remain connected around the needs of nonprofits and how funders can help.

We will continue to update this webpage with new Q&A items. If you have a question not shown here, we invite you to reach out via Ask CMF, a technical assistance service available to all CMF members. Questions may also be directed to CMF staff members by visiting our team page

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Disclaimer: The Council of Michigan Foundations is sharing the following sample documents, resources, tools and other materials as a member resource. Please note that these files are provided for educational purposes only, as a reference in developing your own materials. As such, be sure to consult your professional, legal and financial advisors in the development of resources, strategies and policies specific to your foundation’s needs. Further, this is a rapidly changing situation, and as such, be sure to refer to official sources for the latest news and information.



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