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May 12, 2020



Jeff Byars, CAP®, Associate Director for Donor Services

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The Resilience of Philanthropy through Challenging Times

The past six weeks have been very busy but it's not business as usual. There's an increased sense of urgency and a desire for an immediate response to our collective situation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Prospective donors continue to contact The Columbus Foundation to learn how to establish new charitable funds, financial advisors continue to refer charitably-inclined clients, corporations are inquiring about employee assistance programs, and existing donors direct grant support to help their favorite charities—the spirit of giving in response to great need is inspiring.

While major disruptive events—such as 9/11, the 2008-09 financial meltdown, and the COVID-19 pandemic—create significant challenges for individuals, families, and the nonprofit community, these events also demonstrate our collective desire to engage and give. This is especially true in times of crisis and great need. 

This point is reinforced by the Foundation’s own origin story. Established in 1943, the Foundation’s beginning happened in the turbulent years of World War II—one of the country’s most difficult periods. During this time of uncertainty and doubt, a group of individuals came together to create The Columbus Foundation, a new civic organization dedicated to philanthropy, grantmaking, and making our community a better place to live.

Further support shows that donor-directed grant funding remains strong even during times of unease. A 2019 study by Dan Heist, University of Pennsylvania, and Danielle Vance-McMullen, University of Memphis, found that donors who manage donor advised funds tend to be more generous with their grantmaking during recessions, especially when compared with other forms of giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy summarized their findings by concluding that the rate of grantmaking from donor advised funds tends to be resilient during economic recessions, making those accounts crucial "rainy-day" sources of funding for charities during economic downturns.

This pattern of generosity is evident at The Columbus Foundation, where funding distributed through donor directed grants between March and mid-April 2020 has increased 53 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Also, contributions to the Foundation’s Gifts of Kindness Fund, which provides grants to lift up individuals and families who have experienced an unforeseen setback, totaled $26,835 between March and mid-April 2019. During that same period in 2020, gifts to that fund total $523,445—a nearly 20-fold increase.

While great need remains, our community has already begun to respond, with more to come. To date, more than $4.2 million has been raised to support The Columbus Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, which has already distributed more than $3.9 million to nonprofits that are responding to the impact of COVID-19 in Franklin County. Meanwhile, the Restaurant Workers Association quickly responded to create the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s COVID Artists Relief Fund is championing efforts to support local artists, and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank launched its COVID-19 Emergency Fund. These are just a few extraordinary efforts already underway.

While no one knows when this pandemic will end or yet understands its full impact, if history is to be repeated, donors will continue to give—in both good times and in bad. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about how we can help you support the community during this unprecedented time.

About The Columbus Foundation

The Columbus Foundation serves nearly 3,000 individuals, families, and businesses that have created unique funds and planned gifts to make a difference in the lives of others through the most effective philanthropy possible. The Columbus Foundation is Your Trusted Philanthropic Advisor® and is one of the top ten largest community foundations in the country.