Three ways you can help during the COVID-19 pandemic

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How to help with COVID-19

We are continually monitoring the situation and will update our COVID-19 giving guidance as circumstances change and new information comes available. 

March 16, 2020

You’re washing your hands. You’re avoiding large gatherings. But, in addition to taking all the steps to follow crucial safety guidelines for yourself and your family, what can you do to help the individuals and communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

1. Donate to nonprofits helping to respond to COVID-19—and your other favorite causes as well.

The problem: COVID-19 is creating new needs, while putting enormous financial pressure on all nonprofits. From medical and public health needs related to the response to economic uncertainty impacting vulnerable populations, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating unmet needs above and beyond the usual. The nonprofits working directly to meet those needs require more resources to do so. At the same time—all nonprofits are feeling the pressure, even if they aren’t directly responding to the crisis. The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic may cause many donors to dial back. Many nonprofits are also having to cancel many of their usual programs and fundraising events out of concern for public safety. Most nonprofits have limited financial reserves to carry them through lean times ahead, putting them in a difficult spot.

What you can do:  If you are in a financial position to do so, you should consider making a donation to directly help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve put together this guide to where donors can give to make a difference during this crisis. Donors can make the greatest difference by supporting medical needs in the United States and internationally as well as by supporting organizations that are serving vulnerable populations who will be most affected by the virus’ spread and the associated economic impact.  But all nonprofits you care about will need your financial support in this time; sustaining your support at your usual levels or increasing it will help these organizations get through the crisis and continue their important work. Additionally, donors can support a variety of organizations that exist to serve the nonprofit community with resources, such as providing marketing or fundraising support, leadership training and more. Nonprofits need their committed supporters in these times.

2. Volunteer for organizations that are providing critical services in your community.

The problem: Due to health and safety considerations, many regular volunteers, particularly those who are at higher risk due to age or medical conditions, will need to restrict their usual commitments in the coming weeks and months. This will leave nonprofits who depend on these volunteer resources shorthanded in delivering critical services. At the same time, needs will continue to rise as COVID-19 spreads—for example, demand will likely increase for food pantries and other services, also increasing the need for volunteer time to deliver.

What you can do: Reach out to local charities and ask how you can best support them with your time, keeping safety in mind. You can also search online for volunteer opportunities in your area. Helpful things that you can do safely from home in support of a nonprofit’s mission could include everything from assisting with grantwriting or serving as a crisis counselor on a hotline service.  Nonprofits are also making adjustments to help keep volunteers safe—for example, meal delivery services for the elderly may move to a system of leaving a meal on a doorstep instead of bringing it inside. Yet they may still not have enough volunteers to meet all the need, and you could fill an important gap if you were able to safely take on some of those necessary tasks.

3. Your voice is powerful—use it to advocate for the individuals and organizations that need our help.

The problem: People are worried, but not sure what they can do as individuals to help. Additionally, the problems created by COVID-19 are too big for any one individual or group to tackle, and needs will vary widely by community.

What you can do:  Share information with your friends and network on social media, in conversations about how you are coping during this time and via email. Be a voice for how people can help each other in this time of social distancing, while staying safe. As you learn about how people are being affected and what the needs are, share that information—and tell people what you are doing to make a difference. Remind people to keep supporting the charities they care about. Share local volunteer opportunities and guidance about where people can give to help those impacted.  Seeing your example will help those in your network to realize that they can take action too. Even during a crisis that requires us to keep our distance from others in our community, we can support each other throughout. Speaking up for the needs that exist and sharing how you are helping can inspire others to action as well.

Check out our list of organizations offering relief and support services for immediate medical needs and international aid.

Elaine Martyn


Elaine Martyn
Vice President and Managing Director
Private Donor Group

Elaine Martyn’s career has centered on building programs around family philanthropy, mentorship and leadership, impact investing, international grant-making and values-based giving. She has worked with major donors to support the advancement of health and human rights through medical education, social justice, diversity policy, and advocacy in the United States, United Kingdom, and Asia through her work at the Global Fund for Women, Refugees International, King’s College London, the British Medical Association, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School, and as a Special Advisor on Philanthropy to the U.S. State Department.

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