Responding To Covid-19: Suggestions and Recommendations for Donors as of March 2020 from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Responding To Covid-19: Suggestions and Recommendations for Donors as of March 2020 from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

As of mid-March 2020, COVID-19 is now a world-wide pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 145 countries around the globe are confronted with outbreaks of the virus, and here in the United States multiple communities now live under declared states of emergency.

Fundamental to philanthropy is the core belief that donors can and should be a force for good. Pandemics reveal the worst of the human condition–anxiety, fear, suffering and death–and have grave social and economic consequences that last well beyond the crisis period. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors is at the forefront of ongoing conversations with both large foundations and private donors addressing the evolving needs facing communities across the country. We believe this goes beyond traditional notions of disaster philanthropy to emphasize resilience funding that builds the resilience of individuals, families, and communities to weather the crisis under conditions of extreme uncertainty, volatility, and complexity. Accordingly, we are providing to the donor community preliminary guidance that we will update as the context shifts relating to key principles and general funding areas, including specific recommendations for donations.

Critical Principles for Disaster Response

  • Give donations with as few restrictions as possible.General operating support dollars are the single best way to equip everyone and every group affected right now.
  • Allocate support for the immediate and longer term. The ripple effects of the pandemic will be far reaching and extensive. That means there will be plenty of short- and long-term opportunities for a donor to support what they care about.
  • Fund organizations that are already active and experienced with current capacity in providing services or conducting research for a public health and financial crisis. A crisis is not the best time to help an after-school program start providing support for benefits applications, for example. Look for organizations, like nonprofit hospitals, that are already adept at working with the public sector.
  • Prioritize funder collaboratives to get funding to nonprofits in larger amounts with a single grant vs. a multitude of donations to acknowledge and track. Big collaboratives can also scan the sector and allocate more efficiently.

COVID-19 Philanthropic Funding Areas 

We are seeing donor interest in many areas but five come to the forefront: health and medical needs; social services and economic security; support for small businesses at risk of closure; educational support for students; and region-specific funds. Below is a list of organizations offering support services in one or more of these areas.


For local, national and global responses to be effective, they must have quality data about infection rates, good lines of communication across local, regional and national boundaries and not only sufficient resources, but also the right resources to combat the infection and save lives. Two organizations to consider that meet these criteria are:

  • The CDC Foundation, which provides flexible funding that can support state and local health departments, logistics, communication and data management.
  • Partners in Health, which is taking global action to contain the spread of the virus and ensure that care is available for the most vulnerable.

Overall, RPA feels that sufficient resources are available for vaccine and anti-viral treatments. For those who see this as a priority nonetheless, Gates Philanthropy Partners has a research-focused fund that is accelerating the development of vaccines...