Peter Dunn

Pete’s Perspectives: The Role of Philanthropy During a Crisis

The coronavirus pandemic is not only a public health crisis but also a threat to the economic stability of many of our friends and neighbors in Central New York.

The coronavirus pandemic is not only a public health crisis but also a threat to the economic stability of many of our friends and neighbors in Central New York. While it is hard to be reflective in the middle of such uncertainty – this is nevertheless a good time to ask: What is the role of philanthropy during a crisis?

We’ve all been required to adopt a new way of working, living and relating to each other – pivoting in a matter of days and weeks. While circumstances require that we rewrite our playbook in real time, we are not going to abandon the many things that we have committed to support. We will look at the breadth of our work with local nonprofit partners focused on innovation and flexibility. We are not going to do less because investment markets are chaotic and volatile; we are going to do more, because the community needs us to be leading in this way.

We partnered with the United Way of Central New York, the Allyn Family Foundation, The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County and other partners to establish the COVID-19 Community Support Fund. This fund supports nonprofits working with vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences of the pandemic, with a focus on immediate needs and safety net issues. Within a week of establishing this fund, we had a collaborative governance model in place and initial grants deployed into the community. In the same spirit of collaboration, the Community Foundation’s affiliate funds joined forces with local partners to provide similar support in surrounding counties.

The only way we can effectively deploy resources, in an equitable and impactful way, is to listen to and learn from our partners on the front lines of service delivery and those that they serve. This requires ongoing engagement and collaboration. Philanthropy cannot replace the role of government – the systemic issues we face are simply too enormous. What we can do is act quickly, deploy resources to fill gaps or prove up ideas, and create support for a scaled up response from our government partners.

The resiliency of our community is being tested. It is on each of us to respond the best we can to support one another. Ultimately, this crisis proves the point that we are all each other’s neighbor. We are grateful to our partners and contributors for stepping up to this challenge. Collectively, we stand for the common good of Syracuse and Central New York, and together we will move our community forward.

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