This story is part of TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a year-long series that will track how and where the region’s government, philanthropic, civic and private sector is working toward a more just recovery.
I asked Katherina Rosqueta, founding executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) which is housed within the School of Social Policy & Practice, one last question.
It was with the hope of finding a silver lining to the difficult story on the COVID-19 driven economic crisis facing the city’s nonprofit sector.
The question was about how foundations will rescue the nonprofit sector.
Her blunt response shattered any illusions of a breezy, upbeat ending: “Philanthropy will not solve the problems of coronavirus.”
Rosqueta said the fact that philanthropic dollars can’t single-handedly end the economic strangulation that is COVID-19 was the reason behind the creation of a dashboard with the unlikely moniker — Regional Data Dashboard for COVID-19 Philanthropic Response. Limited dollars necessitate that decision-making has to be efficient in order to be effective. This COVID-19 funding dashboard, slated to go live in August, will attempt to help answer questions about the efficacy of COVID-19 funding in the 10-county Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey region.
“We need to know what are the needs that the shared funds are addressing? Given the scale of harm, we are going to require smarter, more coordinated funding and this COVID-19 dashboard will enable that. It will make philanthropy more effective and efficient.” Rosqueta explained.
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According to the National Council of Nonprofits, the majority of nonprofits are community based organizations that spend less than $500,000 annually to serve local needs making them as essential as they are vulnerable. “The nonprofits that are hardest hit by COVID-19 are those with slim margins between revenue and expense and those dependent on government funding and reimbursements for their services,” explained Sidney R. Hargro of the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, a partner in the creation of the dashboard.
Foundations only account for about three percent of a nonprofit’s revenue. Across the country, community foundations have provided grants totaling $640 million to keep their local non-profit sector afloat. Over 100 major foundations – both US and international — have signed a Ford Foundation pledge committing to help their grantees meet COVID-19 related emergency needs. And locally, the PHL COVID-19 Fund has awarded seven rounds of funding as of the end of June.
That good decisions require good information is a theme Rosqueta has pushed since founding CHIP in 2006. In a TEDxPhiladelphia talk she described the mission of CHIP by posing a question to the audience — how can I, as a donor, spend my money so it does the most good?
Essentially, the dashboard is a continuation on her quest for answers to that question. By using the dashboard, funders will “get to make funding decisions informed by understanding what the needs are and what has been the funding response to date.“
The idea of a database wasn’t new but it took the urgency of COVID-19 to move it to fruition. Besides Hargo, Hilary Rhodes, director of evaluation and learning at the William Penn Foundation and Wes Somerville, director of the Lenfest Foundation were key collaborators.
“You know how they say don’t waste a crisis,” Rosqueta said. The pandemic created a sense of urgency that was enough to move the dashboard across the finish line. “We all realized that and called for a new way of doing the work. It required a willingness to share data which was aided by Rosqueta’s long tenure and deep relationships in the philanthropic space. Rosqueta said it was unfair to say that funders, before the database, worked by gut instinct. Instead she compared it to the parable of the eleven blind men and the elephant — each feeling a different area and describing a different situation.
Funders, she said, have also worked with a limited set of information. But CHIP will be mapping the COVID-19 funding landscape with an eye toward finding gaps and uncovering who is being supported and who is still socially vulnerable. But getting high quality data from nonprofits who are severely underfunded and working with clients who may bulk at providing personal data can be notoriously difficult.
But Rosqueta is undeterred by the challenge. And that’s the real upbeat ending.-30-
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