May 6, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus leads to new giving and volunteering

An illustration of Benjamin Franklin wearing a giving ribbon

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The dramatic need caused by the pandemic and the accompanying economic devastation is being partially met by innovative approaches to philanthropy.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to human misery on a scale we haven't seen for decades. Smarter and more generous volunteering and giving could help prevent the worst outcome while demonstrating the unity that is desperately needed.

What's happening: According to the nonprofit Candid, nearly $10 billion in large charitable gifts around the world has so far been donated in response to the pandemic, with much of it originating in the U.S. That's far more than was given for catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy.

  • But as great as the giving has been, the need is even greater. More than 30 million Americans have filed unemployment claims, while globally, the number of starving people could double because of the pandemic.

Be smart: There will always be a limit in what even the most generous private philanthropy can do — the size of Washington's initial stimulus package was more than 200 times bigger than those large charitable gifts. But charity can make a difference at the margins, especially if ordinary people get involved helping their neighbors.

  • Mimi Aboubaker and Elle Wilson recently launched a philanthropic startup called Perfect Strangers that aims to use gig economy tech to seamlessly connect volunteers with people in need of grocery delivery and other services during the pandemic.
  • The NGO GiveDirectly, which offers money with no strings attached to those in need, has been giving out $1,000 in direct cash grants to American families who have been hard hit by COVID-19. They've reached more than 78,000 families so far, and last month the group received $3 million in funding from Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and Flourish Ventures.
"These are trying times, and any way you can get involved and help one another is important. We're attempting to make that easier."
— Mimi Aboubaker

The bottom line: We may be politically divided, but Americans can still be counted on to give their money and time to neighbors in need.

Go deeper