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Summer 2021   


A Picture of Philanthropy During the Pandemic

Philanthropies and foundations have long played an important role in the United States, filling gaps in public resources, aiding nonprofits on the front lines of service delivery, and serving as advocates and conveners. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 prompted a rush of philanthropic giving, with funds flowing primarily to human services and healthcare organizations coping with the immediate fallout from the crisis. The pandemic also influenced how and to whom funds were directed. During the first half of 2020, approximately 3 percent of philanthropic dollars were given without restriction; by the end of 2020, 39 percent of these funds were unrestricted. Many philanthropies reported removing existing grant restrictions or extending grant timelines, helping nonprofits deploy resources in line with the needs of the emergency. In addition, the coronavirus and demonstrations against racial injustice reinforced the need to address racial inequities. Philanthropic giving to communities with majority Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations or organizations serving BIPOC communities increased from 5 percent of dollars in the first half of 2020 to 13 percent in 2020 overall.1

Addressing the Eviction Crisis

Foundations have several key strengths, including independence and flexibility, which allowed them to quickly adjust their giving as the scope of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent social needs it unleashed became clearer. Although housing has not typically been a major philanthropic focus, housing and eviction prevention soon emerged as a central concern of many philanthropies as pandemic-related job loss and health exigencies put eviction crisis into stark relief. In New York, for example, a group of foundations and financial institutions awarded $7.2 million in grants to a coalition of nonprofits and community-based organizations to start Project Parachute. Through Project Parachute, property owners, nonprofits, and city agencies coordinate eviction prevention resources and services. Project Parachute’s Funds and Services for Tenants Experiencing Need (FASTEN) program offers direct financial assistance for rental arrears and payments, landlord-tenant mediation, legal assistance, and related services such as utility payments, food relief, financial counseling, and job search assistance. The partners recognize that the need for FASTEN’s services will persist even after the immediate concerns related to the pandemic pass.2

The Pittsburgh Foundation supports a similarly holistic approach to prevent evictions in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 2017, the foundation launched its Eviction Prevention Initiative to better understand the prevalence, processes, and impacts of eviction in the county. The foundation gathered this information through discussions with tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders and by collecting and analyzing data on eviction filings. The findings were presented in an April 2021 report along with recommendations for a coordinated slate of interventions and services to prevent evictions, such as creating eviction diversion and housing stabilization programs, increasing the supply of affordable housing, reducing court fees, sealing records in cases that do not result in a completed eviction, and educating tenants and landlords.3 In addition to this research, the foundation helped develop the county’s first housing court and funded a help desk to share information with tenants about legal assistance programs. The foundation also funds organizations that offer workshops for landlords and judges and landlord-tenant mediation services.4

Other philanthropic efforts target specific stages or issues related to eviction. In one such effort, the Wells Fargo Foundation funded grants for 15 local legal assistance organizations to help rectify the stark imbalance in legal representation available to landlords and tenants. Research shows that tenants who have legal representation have a much higher chance of avoiding eviction. The cost of representation, however, is a significant barrier both to individual tenants and to the cities and nonprofits who wish to use legal assistance as an intervention to prevent evictions.5

As the pandemic subsides in the United States, philanthropies will adjust to a new normal. New perspectives adopted during the past year will influence institutional thinking on the potential roles of foundations in a postpandemic world, how foundations should award grants, and which areas of the community need the most attention.

  1. Grace Sato et al. 2021. "Philanthropy and COVID-19: Measuring One Year of Giving," Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid; Emily Finchum-Mason, Kelly Husted, and David Suárez. 2020. "Philanthropic Foundation Responses to COVID-19," Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 49:6.
  2. Services for the Underserved. 2020. "Project Parachute Receives $7.2 Million in New Grants," 13 November press release.
  3. The Pittsburgh Foundation. 2021. "Pittsburgh Foundation releases 'Eviction in Allegheny County: a mixed-methods study."'
  4. Ryan Rydzewski. 2020. "Foundation for Intervention: Groundwork laid to mediate looming eviction crisis," The Pittsburgh Foundation.
  5. Wells Fargo Foundation. 2020. "Wells Fargo Funds Legal Assistance for Renters at Risk of Eviction," 24 September press release.


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