That said, as you explore your options, we strongly advise that you carefully vet any organization you’re considering for a donation, particularly if it’s a brand-new entity. We know from experience related to disaster relief that heightened public awareness and urgency can give rise to scams that masquerade as legitimate charities to gather money.
How can I help organizations addressing virus prevention, treatment and research?
The good news is that there have been unprecedented levels of cooperation within the international scientific community in the race to find both treatments and preventative vaccines for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Multiple local, regional and international response funds were created to support these efforts, as well as to address treatment for those experiencing severe symptoms. In addition, groups are working to insure that vaccines are disseminated broadly to everyone.
On the research front, you may wish to consider contributing to existing organizations in order to leverage their expert vetting of specific scientists or scientific approaches being proposed by researchers. If you’re interested in supporting treatment, you might consider gifts to local hospitals or other medical treatment groups, including international aid organizations.
Longer term, because basic scientific research is generally under-funded in the United States, investing in both bench and clinical research, as well as strengthening the global public health infrastructure, would help position the world to respond better to the next novel pathogen that emerges.
How can I help my community?
First, donors should consider nonprofits that work with the most marginalized populations. Dr. Lauren Smith has pointed out that “disasters lay bare inequities,”1 and this public health emergency has hit some of the most vulnerable people in our nation the hardest. Low-income workers may not have health insurance or paid sick leave, and still are frequently unable to afford time off from work in order to self-quarantine or to seek treatment if they suspect they’re ill. Language barriers and housing instability may pose additional obstacles to those in need of testing, treatment and basic support. While many schools have returned to in-person learning, some schools may continue to function in a virtual or mostly virtual fashion, depending on location – and that can leave children from low-income families without school-provided breakfasts and/or lunches.
Safety-net organizations such as food pantries, homelessness prevention programs and health care providers still need help. Another opportunity would be in support of population-specific work such as funding medical interpreters or translating materials into other languages. Disseminating accurate information continues to be critical, so directing funds toward organizations at the front line of that effort can have wide impact.
Pay attention to local data and discussions about what populations in your community have disparate outcomes on key life indicators such as maternal mortality, high school completion or homelessness. Look for and support organizations that are led by and explicitly serve those populations.
Finally, consider the ripple effects of the virus-related situation. Many nonprofits with revenue-generating activities – theaters and museums, for instance – have seen a sudden drop-off in those revenues from curtailing their activities to support “social distancing” public health strategies. While you might not consider yourself an arts funder, the economic vitality of your community surely benefits from a healthy, thriving arts community. In addition, the mental health impacts of the public crisis should not be overlooked in your grants strategy. On another front, if your geography includes both urban and rural areas, you may wish to examine the specific resources available to people living in the rural areas, as those areas tend to be under-funded and under-resourced.