During our rapidly evolving public health crisis, I called off SHIFT, last week’s GreenLight Fund Detroit annual event. Our goal is to shift economic mobility upwards for local children and families, and like many other social impact organizations, these hosted events are a cornerstone of our work. They not only serve as critical fundraisers, but they gather significant awareness, support, and momentum for needs throughout our community.
By representing a coalition of Detroiters, I have a unique and privileged vantage of many other community-based organizations, and they are hurting. Not only have they lost significant revenue and support through canceled events, but they are stretched even thinner as they tend to our most vulnerable populations.
So while a lot of attention during this crisis is rightfully focused on visible sectors — government, healthcare, education, and business — let’s also shine a light on the social sector, which includes nonprofits, grassroots initiatives, arts, and philanthropy. Often a silent link among resources, opportunities, and residents’ lives, this sector plays a vital role in serving the needs not met by the private and public sectors in everyday life.
We are already seeing Detroiters rising up to face this crisis as numerous organizing efforts have multiplied. These actions range from neighborhood-level volunteer drives for transit, food deliveries, and information sharing, to institutional collaboration such as the nascent multi-million dollar philanthropic COVID-19 Community Response Fund housed at United Way of Southeastern Michigan. Existing charities with slim budgets are extending their services and themselves, despite the increased operational challenges of social distancing and diminishing resources.
The U.S. nonprofit industry employs 10% of our overall workforce, contributes a significant portion of our GDP, and often includes the most difficult jobs and services. By nature of their independence and being directly informed by the people seeking change, community-based plans get right to the heart of local need. And right now, these efforts need your help, especially if you have the means to contribute time or resources.
So what could you do right now? Review your donations over the last year and double down on giving to your favorite organizations or any that serve our most vulnerable populations. If you bought tickets for or sponsored a canceled arts or charity event — or even considered it — let them keep the proceeds as a gift. During your spare social distancing time, promote or sign-up for a grassroots effort to deliver resources, advocate for relieving barriers to basic needs, virtually read to a child, close a struggling renter’s gap, or cover scholarships or lost wages.
Please also remember that social impact organizations need unrestricted funds to keep the lights on and take care of their workers and volunteers. Consider donating or investing in infrastructure, capacity building, or emergency response initiatives so they can better support people on the ground.
Whichever path you choose, your kindness will deepen the civic spirit we need to uplift each other and our neighbors in this tough time. To be clear, not every charitable intervention is the best solution to fight the extreme ills facing us today. But the priorities we support now become blueprints for large-scale, permanent shifts in the public and private sectors, and engaging the social sector allows the immediacy for all of us to act today.
Rishi Moudgil is founding director of GreenLight Fund Detroit, a coalition of residents, investors, and community leaders.
This article was originally published in Detroit Free Press on 26 March 2020. The original article can be viewed here.