Why Trust-Based Philanthropy Is The Best Response To The COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic requires flexible, trust-based philanthropy for nonprofits on the frontlines. Our future requires that to become the norm.


Uncertainty has become a defining feature of our world since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 is not only upending our lives and the lives of our loved ones, but it is also disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable among us and in communities around the world. This is especially true for communities that were already severely affected by recent disaster events and now find themselves on an even more complex and daunting journey to recovery.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, GlobalGiving’s disaster response team has listened closely each day to local nonprofit partners about this extreme uncertainty and what it means in the areas where they work. For example, our partners at Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico are now navigating the new challenges of supporting communities in southwestern Puerto Rico that are grappling with the dangers of COVID-19, the lingering devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, ongoing earthquakes, and a persistent drought.

Amid so much uncertainty, one principle remains central to GlobalGiving’s disaster response work: starting with trust. Our response to the COVID-19 crisis has been and will continue to be driven by trust in our nonprofit partners based in areas hit hardest by the virus and its impacts. Our local partner organizations are deeply embedded in the communities they serve, understand the needs of their neighbors more clearly than anyone sitting behind a keyboard hundreds or thousands of miles away, and will be there long after attention inevitably shifts away from the pandemic. It is our privilege and job to connect these organizations with the resources they need to meet the challenge of the moment.

We have been leaning into the tenets of trust-based philanthropy for 15 years. It is an approach to philanthropy that is rooted in power-sharing, equity, humility, transparency, and collaboration. As we face COVID-19, the principles of this approach are relevant now more than ever. In the early days of the pandemic, GlobalGiving immediately took two key, trust-based steps to support our more than 150 current grantee partners who are actively working on disaster response, as well as navigating the challenges of COVID-19.

We offered extreme flexibility to our partners. Through a short four-question survey sent in March, all of our partners could immediately inform us of any urgent changes needed to their active grants precipitated by COVID-19. For example, Urban Harvest, based in Texas and serving communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey, said it needed to use its grant funds to rapidly adapt its community farmers market program in northeast Houston to the realities of the pandemic. With this type of partner feedback in hand, we swiftly amended more than 50 of our active grants to allow for maximum flexibility. Urban Harvest is now launching multiple pop-up, drive-thru versions of its community farmers market in known food deserts. For the remaining grants, we told our partners that we are ready to listen and act if and when they express that changes are needed as COVID-19 impacts continue to take shape.

Beyond grantmaking from our Coronavirus Relief Fund, we activated rapid response donations from our other ongoing disaster response funds to support existing partners that were already on the frontlines of pandemic recovery in their communities. These rapid response donations required no proposals nor subsequent reporting from our trusted partners. Within a two-week period, our team sent nearly $1.4 million in rapid response donations to 59 local partners in 11 countries. These funds were immediately put to use to meet critical needs. Una Mano Para Oaxaca, serving communities in Oaxaca impacted by the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico, used funds to expand its community radio program to share vital information about COVID-19 prevention and simultaneously provide direct financial assistance to artisan communities severely affected by the halt of tourism.

Our partners at Y No Había Luz, serving hurricane-impacted communities in Puerto Rico through the arts, shared what our agile approach meant for them: “In the middle of all of this suffering, devastating situations and big global injustices, your flexible support provides the opportunity to keep dreaming and to keep offering what we do better—healing through the arts.”

Even as GlobalGiving joins nearly 800 other funder organizations in a pledge of action in this time of crisis, there is much more that we must do to embrace and bring about a new trust-based model of philanthropy. PEAK Grantmaking and Exponent Philanthropy recently released a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on funder behavior. It notes that many funders are unlikely to reduce onerous reporting requirements for their grantee partners after the pandemic subsides. Trust-based philanthropy demands that we spare our nonprofit partners from devoting hours to filling out repetitive reporting forms when those hours would be better spent serving vulnerable communities. On our part, GlobalGiving is actively reviewing its current disaster grantmaking practices and processes to better understand where we have the opportunity to more firmly root ourselves in starting and leading with trust.

We are in the midst of a challenge of a lifetime. While we remain physically apart from each other, it is the power of local communities acting together to demand and create change that will take us forward. The Indian author Arundhati Roy recently reflected on how pandemics have forced people to break with the past and reimagine their world. “This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next,” she wrote. As we pass together through the gateway into an uncertain new world, trust must guide us.

Learn more about how GlobalGiving’s Disaster Recovery Team is leading localized disaster response with principles of trust-based philanthropy.

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Featured Photo: Free treatment for Children with Thalassemia by Al-Mustafa Welfare Society

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