May 19, 2021 10:32 am

You asked ‘How can I help?’ and CHIP found answers

When the Center for High Impact Philanthropy mapped regional giving it found anomalies in the data that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

A map of the geographic areas with relatively high vulnerability rates, but relatively low grantmaking activity, from the CHIP dashboard.


It is well known that disasters stimulate giving. COVID-19, both the event and the donations, were unprecedented. But how does a funder decide the right place to put limited funds in order to do the most good under urgent conditions?

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) at the University of Pennsylvania was tasked by the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia to create the COVID-19 Philanthropy Dashboard to help find the answers. The project was underwritten by the Lenfest and William Penn foundations.

“People were already vulnerable, COVID just compounded things,” CHIP Executive Director Katherina Rosqueta said.

Sidney Hargro.

“The idea for the dashboard came about because funders were asking questions about what gaps existed – and we couldn’t answer,” said Sidney R. Hargro, president of Philanthropy Network.

Funders needed a tool to help them determine if the money being donated was being spent in a way that would connect to the immense need that COVID-19 was rapidly unveiling.

The goal was to provide the data to answer this broad concern in rich detail for regional funders by researching: What needs were funders addressing? Who were the intended beneficiaries? Where did the money go? What community needs were addressed? What special populations were served? The answers were to provide the guidance necessary to enhance philanthropy’s future impact, especially in the wake of a disaster.

“The big lesson learned is that data is helpful because it can show the questions that we are asking and that we are not asking,” Rosqueta said.

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After scrutinizing 4,892 grants made by 13 shared relief funds, including the PHL Covid Fund, the Delaware County COVID-19 Response Fund, and the MontCo PA Covid 19 Response Fund – CHIP first reported their findings last August. Over $40 million in rapid response funding was spent from March through June. Nonprofits received almost 60% of the grant funds. The average grant size was $8,211, and the top need areas to receive funding were economic activity, education, and health.

Katherina Rosqueta.

“The dashboard helped the region understand where $40 million was dispersed — where the money went and what organizations and needs areas were funded,” Rosqueta said.

However, there were deeper insights that came as the collected information was mapped against publicly established databases of community needs and then visualized. These databases provide a more robust context in which to evaluate a commuity’s needs and a nonprofit’s request.

One example is the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI).  Social vulnerability refers to a community’s resilience or its ability to respond to a disaster — whether natural or human made.  The SVI uses U.S. Census data to determine the social vulnerability of every census tract in the country and ranks each tract in four areas — socioeconomic status, household composition, race/ethnicity/language and housing/transportation. This rating helps determine where resources should be pointed in terms of relief and recovery when disaster hits.

When CHIP mapped regional giving against the Social Vulnerability Index, they found that giving and need were, for the most part, commensurate. High SVI scores and high per capita awards were aligned. However, they found anomalies in the data that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

For example, Bucks and Chester counties, which are both relatively affluent, had the third and fourth highest per capita grant awards although both counties ranked low on the social vulnerability index.

“In contrast, rural Cumberland County in New Jersey had the second highest Social Vulnerability (number), just behind Philadelphia, but the lowest granting, at just $0.62 per capita,” according to CHIP’s report,  Charting Impact: Findings from the COVID Dashboard and Lessons for the Road Ahead.

Hargro said another lesson was to determine upfront what data needs to be collected in a disaster and to standardize that request.

“The focus was on getting money out and we didn’t have time to think about the data that should be collected,” Hargro said.

CHIP is recommending that funders develop a common grant application to use in a crisis as a way of moving quickly in a disaster without sacrificing the data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the grantmaking. Overtaxed nonprofits could write one grant for multiple funders relieving their burdens. On the other hand, funders would be assured of collecting the data necessary to get a clear view of funding effectiveness.

“The final lesson is we have to do much better with structural inequalities and disparities,” Rosqueta said, adding. “I’ve seen more interest in funders using trust-based giving.”

Traditional philanthropy is hierarchal with funders determining the needs and releasing request for nonprofits to submit grant proposals. Trust based philanthropy is about developing relationships with grantees that are co-equal forcing funders to listen more intently to the nonprofits with which they work. Rosqueta also said foundations needed to move towards making certain that there is diversity on their boards and in their leadership ranks.

Or as Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, a program officer for the Edward W. Hazon Foundation penned in a recent op-ed , philanthropy was complicit in inequality as indicated by the data. “ Only 1.8% of total philanthropic giving in the U.S. is going to Black communities, 0.2% is going to AAPI communities, 0.28% to LGBTQ communities, and so on,” Sousa-Rodriguez wrote.

One grant initiative using a more participatory, trust-based approach is the Covid-19 Prevention & Response Fund. The goal is to fund “neighborhood based solutions to urgent challenges (exacerbated by the pandemic) in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” The Philanthropy Network is managing the fund and uses Community Investment Advisors from Philadelphia as well as Chester Delaware, and Montgomery counties for input on how to structure the grant and allocate the money. The next round of funding will open for applications on Tuesday, June 1 through Friday, June 11.

In the first few months of the pandemic there was an outpouring of relief funds. About $20 billion in philanthropic dollars flowed into nonprofits smashing all crisis giving records according to Candid, a U.S. nonprofit tracking the philanthropy sector and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP). The money, Rosqueta said is still “just drop in the ocean” when compared to the need.

“I have faced the inconvenient truth of philanthropy that grants alone aren’t a magical solution to everything. Money doesn’t equal impact. In fact, grants can never be guaranteed to have intended outcomes,” Sousa-Rodriguez wrote.

COVID-19 provided the conditions for CHIP to test their premise that collecting and analyzing the data in order to drive decision-making would make the giving more effective. The question is critical because disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity. And each disaster has significant economic and social implications, especially for those who can least afford it.

The real reason to do the work, Rosqueta said, is there will be another disaster. “It isn’t a question of will there be one, but of when.”


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