9 April 2020

Collaboration and courage in a time of crisis

European philanthropy’s response to COVID-19

The Coronavirus has blown from the East to the West at lightning speed. The pandemic has required philanthropy organisations across Europe to be brave in stepping beyond their comfort zones and rapidly responding to the new and intensified challenges posed by the ensuing crisis. While the rate at which this pandemic and its responses are developing means it is an ever-changing field.  The European Resource Hub “COVID-19 and Philanthropy” offers a complete overview of the activities, initiatives and solutions from civil society and philanthropy organisations across Europe. Herewith I would like to give you a snapshot of what is happening in the field:

At the core of the wide array of philanthropic activities lies the strong solidarity and collaboration that we sense across borders and sectors throughout Europe. Where governments have shown divide in their response, philanthropy has shown up united in its diversity. Each foundation contributes to addressing the crisis in its own way, and joint initiatives have risen to support beneficiaries who are often on the frontlines during this emergency or are being overlooked by government relief measures.

Numerous national and international COVID-19 Response Funds have now been established – such as the one by the UN Foundation, WHO and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation and Fondation de Luxembourg’s newly launched COVID-19 Foundation – which seek to support health care workers, vulnerable individuals, and research towards understanding and treating the virus. In Croatia, civil society organisations have partnered to mobilise community potential and mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 aftermath.

Good practice for philanthropy networks

Various resource hubs have surfaced online and are eagerly shared among networks as a way of increasing knowledge and highlighting best practice. With this in mind, DAFNE has organised weekly peer exchange calls between its members and the PEX community to discuss how national associations and foundations are operating in this time of crisis. Civitates has also collected useful resources specifically for civil society organisations in their open-source document. In order to allow organisations to continue operations, TrustLaw has put in place a valuable resource hub providing pro-bono legal advice to non-profits.

Philanthropy has a significant role to play during this crisis and voices emerged from the philanthropy ecosystem to guide foundations towards a new way of operating. Carola Carazzone, representing the Italian association Assifero, was quick to call for action among foundations to review the role they play in supporting the third sector. Assifero has also partnered with Italia non profit on a platform sharing the initiatives of foundations, philanthropic bodies and companies supporting the Coronavirus emergency in Italy.

Philanthropic organisations showed up as the flexible, innovative and empowering entities they strive to be. The measures introduced range from moving towards unrestricted funding to suspending reporting duties, and even establishing emergency funds. Several foundation associations have conducted surveys of their members’ quick responses to the crisis, with outcomes already published by the Association of Charitable Foundations (UK), the Ukrainian Philanthropy Forum, and by the European Foundation Centre. The Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland also conducted a questionnaire of responses to the pandemic from community foundations across Europe.

Public statements of support and solidarity

Foundations have come together to display solidarity with wider civil society by signing statements to adapt activities, discuss dates, be financially flexible, and be open to conversation with beneficiaries. On the European level, DAFNE and EFC are jointly coordinating the European Philanthropy Statement on COVID-19 in the spirit of European solidarity, which is open to be signed by all funders active in Europe. Many statements have also emerged on the national level, including the Association of German Foundations, the UK London Funders, the Association of Corporate Foundations in Slovakia and SwissFoundations.

Outreach to European and national governments

National governments and the European Union are looking at measures to protect public health as well as the economy during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Both strands of action must be undertaken with civic rights and civil society at the heart. The European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law has issued jointly with the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law a guide providing 6 do’s and 6 don’ts for governments to follow in times of emergency to avoid breaching human rights, while UN human rights experts have urged governments to not abuse emergency powers.

Philanthropy has also been vocal in safeguarding civil society and its future. DAFNE and EFC have jointly called on the Presidents of the EU institutions to facilitate the vital work being done by philanthropy in responding to the crisis. In the UK, following pressure from the third sector, the government has announced an economic support package which is an important and welcome first step in providing a lifeline for civil society. A group of German-speaking foundations and philanthropists has also written to the EU Commission calling for the Green Deal to form the basis of the COVID-19 economic stimulus programmes.

What is next?

WINGS, the global network of philanthropy support organisations, is coordinating peer exchanges around COVID-19 and philanthropy at a global level and also curating an important global resource hub.  Regular online meetings and the set up of project groups around philanthropy data, advocacy and how best to prepare the revival phase following the emergency situation are key moments for the global philanthropy community.