As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on and continues to cause distress, corporations are being entrusted – and expected – to lead the way to support and help solve the world’s most pressing issues. Since the crisis began, the Association of Corporation Citizenship Professionals (ACCP) has supported hundreds of companies in their effort to effectively deploy their human and financial resources to help those that are most vulnerable in communities. Five pressing issues that have emerged as priorities for corporate philanthropy and volunteerism are:
1. Employee Hardship:
The health, safety, and continued livelihood of employees is the top priority for companies in this time of crisis. First, employers are ensuring a safe working environment for essential workers and then extending paid time off and health benefits for employees and contractors who are ill, exposed to the virus or have unmet childcare needs. But beyond these basics, many companies are providing financial relief with charitable dollars for their impacted workforce.
Employee Assistance Funds (EAFs) are philanthropic entities created and funded by a company to which employees in need can apply for cash relief. Approximately 70% of large corporations already have an EAF in place and those that do not are turning to third party nonprofits like e4e Relief and/or local community foundations to distribute charitable funds directly to employees. Companies are making significant donations to their hardship funds and supplementing them by providing a financial match to contributions made by employees and executives or through awareness campaigns.
2. Food insecurity:
As the unemployment rate surpasses 20% in the US, lack of access to healthy meals, groceries, and household staples has risen by a projected 25%. Many people are finding themselves unable to put food on the table for the first time, and those previously counting on the safety net of school breakfasts and lunches are even more vulnerable now that schools have shuttered. The massive shifts in the food supply chain are further devastating communities.
In response, many companies are funding hunger relief organizations including Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and World Central Kitchen, which are quickly and efficiently deploying meals and groceries through trusted community partners. Companies are also engaging their employees as volunteers in purchasing, packing, and distributing food to those in need through partnerships with local foodbanks who are safely engaging volunteers.
Corporations are supporting the needs of frontline medical workers to ensure they have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight the spread of COVID-19 and healthcare is also a priority area for corporate contributions. Companies have identified global NGO’s such as Americares, World Health Organization, CDC Foundation and Project HOPE for their philanthropic response and local hospital foundations to impact communities within their footprints. Funding Federally Qualified Health Clinics (FQHC’s) is a philanthropic strategy for some companies to directly address the inequitable impact of the virus on people living in rural and underserved communities. All companies can scour their supply facilities and donate any stock of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other supplies that may be on hand.
4. Digital Education:
With 91% of students around the world and 32 million in the US alone currently out of school, companies are stepping up to address the learning gap that is intensified by the inequities of the digital divide. Many companies are addressing the lack of internet and computer access through their CSR responses. Donating computers and laptops to school districts is strengthened by working with nonprofits such as Comp-U-Dopt to refurbish electronics and purchase new equipment for families in need. Other companies are working with nonprofit organizations such as EveryoneOn to connect low-income families to affordable internet access and create accessible mobile hot spot locations.
Qualified teachers are also struggling to deliver content virtually with little to no technological training. Tech corporations are directing pro bono volunteers to provide teachers with much-needed tech support, and companies are partnering with organizations like Khan Academy to provide lesson plans and adaptable curriculum.
5. Small business relief:
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) cannot keep up with the demand of struggling businesses, and many corporations are stepping in to assist small businesses in their communities. One way is by funding community development financial institutions (CDFI’s) that lend to and invest in minority and women-owned small businesses and other underserved local businesses. Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) is a national organization that supports a network of CDFI’s and companies are partnering with them to direct their funds locally.
Corporations are also providing mentoring and skills-based pro bono to small businesses by encouraging qualified employees to volunteer their financial, legal, HR, and tech expertise. Others are providing financial support to the gig workers, restaurant workers, and other hourly employees of shuttered small businesses through the National Restaurant Association Foundation and/or One Fair Wage Emergency Fund which provide hardship grants directly to those former employees of small businesses who are not working.
By addressing any of these five community needs, companies will help stem the devastating impact of the pandemic. Rebuilding communities that are intentionally more equitable and resilient will be the next challenge for corporate social responsibility.