On Philanthropy: Finding Hope in Darkness

bright star in dark sky with tree in foregroundPhilanthropy in the age of COVID

Contributed by AFPSEWI
Milwaukee Business Journal
May 15, 2020 issue

As I write you from my makeshift office (a child's desk pushed against our guest room window), Week 10 of the Stay at Home order is unfolding. Another week of worrying about my parents, my people, my organization, the economy. 

Like many, I’ve analyzed the pandemic from all directions and reached a conclusion:  I’m tired of this.

Working in the wee hours (when my daughter’s asleep so there are no mouths to feed, no diapers to change, no zoom meetings to attend), I gaze out the window to see a star shining through the foggy twilight, and it reminds me:  in the darkest skies we find the brightest stars.

Our skies certainly are dark.  The pandemic has tested our community to the fullest.  The state unemployment rate is nearing 30%; Milwaukee county has over 4,000 confirmed cases and 219 neighbors have passed away.  According to a recent survey by the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, 54% of area nonprofit organizations expect fewer donations, and 65% report a decrease in volunteers. A quarter of these organizations have furloughed employees and 67% applied for emergency payroll protection under the CARES Act.

And yet…help may be on the way.  In a survey by Fidelity Charitable, 54% of donors nationwide said they intend to maintain their giving levels, and 25% plan to increase them – reflecting the American public’s deep belief in taking action through charity.

That’s good news for nonprofits.  Because those organizations have just begun their coronavirus missions: to sustain and restore quality of life for communities stretched to its limit.  To help us and our families navigate the many effects of this crisis.  To prove that there is hope in the darkness – as long as you can see the light.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This month’s column is contributed by Ellen Wilkinson.