Philanthropy’s role in this once-in-a-lifetime situation
The pandemic’s unprecedented impact demands an equal response for recovery.
In the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, while the state worked furiously to respond to the public health crisis, Connecticut’s philanthropic community roared into action to address the immediate needs of Nutmeggers across the state. Within weeks of the lockdown, members of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, the state’s network for funders, began moving thousands of grants and tens of millions of dollars to help meet the needs of the mass of people hurt by the health and economic fallout of COVID-19. Resources went to ensure that people had access to food and emergency assistance, essential workers had safe childcare, kids had computers and internet, nonprofits had protective equipment, small businesses could access grants and loans, and much more.
Now, through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and other stimulus packages, the state is receiving billions of dollars from the federal government to more robustly respond to the moment’s challenges and comprehensively address the issues that many funders supported this past year. Gov. Ned Lamont released his proposal for the ARPA funds last month with money split between health and human services and large allocations for budget balancing. Meanwhile, state legislators recently came out with their own proposal that invests more in businesses and human services.
These resources are once-in-a-lifetime dollars for Connecticut, and it is imperative that the state, leaders, and funders use this opportunity to transform Connecticut. These proposals are a good start, but Connecticut can do better, and the state’s philanthropic community is a critical key to this success. We must deepen the work between these two sectors and partner to support a more equitable and thriving Connecticut.
Advance equity in Connecticut
This is the moment to tackle something big. The pandemic revealed deep inequity in our systems and policies. Not only were Black and Latino Connecticut residents more likely to contract COVID-19, but they were also more likely to die from it and took longer to qualify for vaccination. People of color also fell further behind economically than their white peers due to prolonged shutdowns and increased health risks in retail, hospitality, and food services industries. Not to mention the struggles of finding adequate childcare and providing support for family members.
While the federal dollars won’t solve all the problems caused or exacerbated by the pandemic, they should be spent to transform outdated systems and policies to better provide relief for and investment in the people, businesses, and communities most impacted by the pandemic. In our state, this could mean major investments in affordable childcare, public infrastructure like broadband access, or capital for BIPOC entrepreneurs and businesses. Philanthropic leaders and their grantees would be valuable partners in this work, and focused advances on equity could have a profound and sustained positive impact on the state.
Leverage Connecticut’s philanthropic community
Connecticut has a rich network of foundations that have risen to the moment before and during the pandemic. They have expertise in many of the challenges that the state is facing right now, local-level knowledge of the state’s nonprofits, and can partner with communities to ensure that resources match the needs. Foundations can spread resources knowledgeably to the local level, where the work happens in Connecticut. State and municipal leaders should be leveraging the experience and operations of these foundations for strategic and streamlined support.
Increase transparency and impact with data
Philanthropy can and wants to partner with state and local leaders to increase the impact and equity of public programs but needs data to do so. This is even more important if the state looks to equitably bolster both economic and health recovery in the wake of the pandemic, and it means providing community-level, disaggregated data.
In Connecticut, having neighborhood-level data in hand is crucial to understanding where programs are successful, who they are successful for, and where they are falling short. For example, health professionals can understand vaccination trends in their community and parlay that data into targeted outreach to strengthen community health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, with the new federal dollars coming in, many funders and donors will be asking — is my money still needed? Data about which agencies and nonprofits will receive these funds will help donors and funders know that their resources are still necessary and focus their giving in the most impactful ways.
Partner for the future
We are in a remarkable and unlikely moment — there is a heightened public understanding of the inequities and challenges that people are encountering just as a windfall of federal resources is making its way to the state’s coffers. This is our opportunity to change the story of Connecticut — both for the people and for the state, but only if we work together to make it happen.
We can make a transformational difference to people and communities throughout Connecticut by working together toward a more equitable Connecticut. The philanthropic sector, state, and local leaders have a collective responsibility to make this opportunity a reality, and we must do it now.
Karla Fortunato is President of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy.
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