Philanthropy is an important part of society, no matter what is happening in the world. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, gifts have the potential to be more beneficial.
According to Stella Dilik, chief development officer at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in Moreland Hills; Jane Hargraft, chief development officer at The Cleveland Orchestra in Cleveland; and Joel Marcovitch, CEO of JewishColumbus in Columbus, participating in philanthropy during the pandemic can allow organizations to respond to community needs quickly.
“Philanthropic involvement is crucial during the pandemic,” Hargraft said. “We must maintain the institutions that are critical to the community – health care, social services, housing, education and of course, arts and culture. In this time of great economic instability, the need for basic human services provided by these not-for-profits have not diminished but instead have increased.”
Marcovitch said, “Organizations can mobilize in a way that the government is just too big to do. Just look at the time when we as a community closed all of our doors in March. The next day at 7:30 a.m., we were delivering meals to people who needed them. We managed to be nimble enough to fill that need so quickly. JewishColumbus has always been that centralized community organization that has been able to use its expertise and network to fund raise in a way that no one else can. So, you need an organization like that in every community, that centralized component.”
For Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve natural areas, preserve farmland and revitalize urban centers, philanthropic activity is more important than ever during the pandemic. Dilik recalled previous pandemics, like the cholera outbreaks in the 1800s, and how this spurred the creation of outdoor areas.
“In the 1800s, the cholera outbreak in New York City incited the creation of Central Park and in 1848 in Paris, that led to the demolition of thousands of structures, replacing them with tree-lined boulevards and artisan fountains,” she explained. “So, this pandemic is no different. When you think about the work of WRLC and why it’s important, it’s about getting outside and staying socially distant from each other. That is a whole lot easier because of land conservancy. These park spaces provide opportunities for hiking, biking and play, as well as peace and renewal. So outdoor spaces are important, especially in a pandemic, because it is one of the only things we can do and remain connected.”
At The Cleveland Orchestra, concerts have come to a halt – both at Severance Hall in Cleveland and Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. This makes philanthropic activities imperative, as well as expanding the ways the organization is reaching out and connecting with the community.
“Continuing to support the community and provide music has been a top priority for the orchestra,” Hargraft noted. “We ramped up our concerts on WCLV Classical 104.9 ideastream seven days a week, made our Mindful Music Moments and other education programs more widely available and introduced an exciting new podcast called ‘On a Personal Note.’ Our philanthropic work has absolutely continued, but we adjusted how and when we are communicating. ... We were looking to connect with them out of a genuine concern for their collective wellbeing. The best way for (the community) to help us is to advocate for us and promote us on pages like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.”
JewishColumbus donor-advised funds are the most practical during the pandemic. Where monetary resources tend to be limited, Marcovitch said this method of philanthropy works because the funds have already been donated.
“It’s money sitting there in accounts that people were inspired enough to transfer from one account to another,” he said. “Even if people are hurting in their lives, they still will have been able to contribute through that fund. It’s an amazing charitable vehicle especially for times like this. With the donor-advised fund, they feel like they have the opportunity to contribute without taking funds out of their pocket right now.”
The professionals also said donors could make a difference now by establishing estate plan designations or volunteering, though the volunteering looks different now and might consist of making calls or sending letters.
Looking to the future, the moves that organizations make now in a period of widespread need will make an impact on communities.
“People are going to be more sensitive to the needs of organizations and how they connect with others,” Dilik said.
Hargraft added, “It’s incredibly important to always lead with understanding, empathy and compassion. Many people and businesses will be hurt financially by the downturn, who adore your organization but who may need to delay their pledge payments or not give you an increased gift when they really want to. This is not a situation that will turn around quickly, so keeping an open dialogue with your donors on the challenges you are both facing, will help you make a thoughtful ask and them to make a meaningful gift.”