Philanthropy U COVID-19 Response

By Phil Clark, COO, Philanthropy U

While much attention has been paid to the way the global Covid-19 pandemic is a health crisis of the highest magnitude, a tsunami of knock-on effects have been quietly devastating mission-driven organizations around the globe. At Philanthropy U, our mission is to expand the capacity of under-resourced, locally-led organizations working to address critical issues in their communities. Fearing that these organizations would be overwhelmed by a deluge of challenges – lack of funding, inability to deliver services, transitioning to working remotely – we set out to understand how we could help.

We knew that time was of the essence, and in little over a week conducted a series of interviews and collected survey data from hundreds of organizations in order to better understand their challenges in light of Covid-19. We saw that 9 out of 10 organizations had closed or limited their operations due to social distancing, lack of capacity, or resource constraints. Half of the organizations we spoke with reported significantly increased stress or worry, and nearly half reported that they lacked the resources to meet beneficiary demand.

Other findings included:

  • Information Quality and Access: Organizations told us that sourcing information on COVID was tedious and difficult, and that they were hungry for info from trusted sources. Many communities they serve are generally wary of information put out by governments.
  • Lack of Preparedness: Organizations were already stressed about funding and their organizational strategy during normal times, and feeling overwhelmed during this ‘all hands on deck’ moment when they are doing their best to support their beneficiaries. Moreover, organizations are operating on their own since most funding partners do not have much to say or offer to them at this time, which amplified the uncertainty.
  • Limited Knowledge Sharing: Organizations were mobilizing to respond to the crisis, but had no idea as to how other organizations were responding, preparing, or adapting to this crisis; they were limited in how they could connect.
  • Shift to Digital: Organizations recognized that they must adapt their delivery strategies to meet the needs of a socially distant world, but they didn’t have the experience or expertise to do this.
  • In response to these findings, and recognizing the dire needs faced by the organizations we serve, our team pivoted into a wartime footing, and began rapidly developing a series of initiatives to meet these challenges, including:
    • Resource Aggregation: We poured our marketing efforts into stockpiling and disseminating the most relevant and useful content we could find, leveraging our trusted brand to get the right information in front of our users.
    • Course Development: We developed six mini courses in record time, covering topics from “Leading an Organization in a Pandemic,” developed in partnership with Bain and Co and FHI 360, which helped organizations determine how to lead their organizations in a shifting landscape. To support organizations in bringing their services online, we created a course called “Designing an Online Lesson,” developed in collaboration with Pathstream and Teach for All. Other courses included “Stay Safe,” “Planning Communications,” “Fundraising” and “Working with High-Risk Populations.” Every course spoke to specific needs faced by our organizations, and provided evidence-based instruction to help them rise to meet the moment.
    • Community Driven Initiatives: While creating content in collaboration with leading experts was immensely useful, our entire organization is predicated on the idea that local leaders know best how to solve their challenges. Channeling this, we also launched a series of community initiatives:
    • Job Board: Allowed members of our community to post and find job and volunteer opportunities, supporting mobilization against the pandemic.
    • Discussion Forum: Created a dedicated space for our users to share what was working for them in their pandemic responses.
    • Pitch Competition: Community members pitched ideas to respond to Covid-19, and the top idea won a grant to fund it.

The results of our efforts have been meaningful and inspiring. Collectively, over 15,000 community members have taken a course or participated in a community-driven initiative. Our Covid-19 courses are completed at nearly 10x industry standards, and on average receive an exceptional NPS rating of 66.

We know much work remains to fully address this crisis, but we’re proud to be doing our part to support thousands of local communities worldwide.