Right now, everyone is scrambling. We’re trying to move to 100% remote work, 100% remote teaching, homeschooling our children, making sure the pantry is full, worrying what this all means for our employment or our friend’s employment or our parents’ employment, and trying to make sure we wash our hands even more than we should. It’s stressful for everyone in 100 different ways and effects each of us differently at different moments.
It’s really hard to know what to do to make things better when your main focus is keeping things and yourself stable, safe, and sane.
Around the world, foundations of every shape, size, and mission are in a similar “figuring it out” moment. What should they do with their funds at this time of international public health crisis? How can they redeploy those funds to make the biggest difference? Should they ditch years of carefully thought out investment and just give their money to research? To first responders? To buying equipment for hospitals? To supporting those in need in their communities?
As a foundation trustee and the chair of our foundation’s strategy and program committee I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues over the past two weeks. Our foundation is pretty new, only 10 years old, but we’ve been doing some very good work and have played a central role in building the local ecosystem of philanthropy in Romania.
And now that ecosystem is facing ruin. Rightfully and understandably, almost every donor in Romania is directing their support to medical supplies, food aid, and other forms of relief in a country where the infection rate is growing rapidly. And the great news is that businesses and individuals are stepping up to make very large donations, many of them being channeled through the network of community foundations we helped to build. Because so much money is already flowing to the most basic needs in the country, we have decided that our best course is to ensure that our network of partners emerges from this crisis whole and still able to do the vital work they have been doing over the past seven or eight years.
To help make sure that happens, we’re working with them to redeploy project-based funding to essential things like paying staff and paying rents rather than delivering on promised projects. We’re relaxing our expectations about deliverables from existing grants and we’re making sure they get what they need so that three, six, or how ever many months from now they emerge from this moment of crisis still able to do their work in rural economic development, K-12 education, ecotourism, entrepreneurship education, and community philanthropy. All of these programs are essential to the future of the communities where our partners work and without those small-scale social enterprises, those communities, many of them very poor, will be left without supporters who can help them recover from the crisis.
Do we know that this is the best of all possible choices? No. Of course we don’t, because right now no one knows what is the best thing to do. But we do believe that our partners have a critical role to play in the recovery efforts in Romania and so we have chosen to make sure they are still there, still working, and still whole enough to do that critical work. We might change our mind in a month, or three months, because none of us knows how bad it’s going to get before it gets better. But for now, we have a plan that we believe will position our partners to do what needs to be done when the corner is turned and we can all start thinking about recovery rather than survival.