Opinion: As we look to a new year, let's deliver equity and access in how we give

Outdoor food shelf distribution at Waite House Community Center in Minneapolis, coordinated by Medtronic Foundation partner, Pillsbury United Communities. Photo by: Pillsbury United Communities

The end of an unexpected and challenging year is approaching. Amid historic crises, we can no longer wait and hope for change to impact our communities. We must take action in our workplaces, hometowns, and around the world.

The impact of two such crises, COVID-19 and systemic inequity, are touching every doorstep and forcing us to finally address the structures in our communities that have locked people of color into poorer health and greater economic disadvantage for generations.

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This year, our impact needs to stretch farther, to every business and every home, until we drive out the inequities and racism dividing our communities. In order to do that, we need to examine how we give, starting today, on Giving Tuesday, and throughout this giving season.

Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Originally taking place in the United States the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it now extends around the world, encouraging hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity during the holiday season. It has elevated the overall profile of nonprofit work and helped focus attention during the holiday season on supporting those in need.

But not every organization that deserves our support has the structures in place to launch a campaign during Giving Tuesday. Local grassroots and community organizations are providing support and resources in unprecedented conditions, with a surge in need due to the economic impact of the pandemic that is overwhelming at best.

These very organizations are also the ones who are least likely to have a sophisticated digital presence, and they often do not have large boards filled with high-level senior executives or easy access to the donation opportunities that exist in those circles. What they do have is in-depth knowledge of the community, passionate leaders and volunteers from the community, innovative means of getting work done, and the trust of those they serve. They work hard to get the most to the community — not only their funds, but their time, commitment, and authenticity.  

These organizations provide us with an opportunity this giving season. Their philosophy and their stories are authentic, inspiring, and they embody the kind of sustainable change that we are all striving for. This Giving Tuesday, let’s think about equity and inclusion in terms of access to giving, reach beyond our regular circles, and support the small, scrappy, place-based organizations that could otherwise be overlooked.

Rapidly changing needs require knowledge of the community, trust, and innovation

Beyond Giving Tuesday, the corporate philanthropic community has an opportunity to remove barriers and enable change by supporting local nonprofits leading the change in their communities. These organizations bring a deep understanding of the contexts they work in, personal and trusting relationships, and the ability to drive and support change on the ground. And this year, organizations like these need our support as much as ever as they address these dual crises on the ground.

For example, in Karnataka, India, the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust expanded its services beyond HIV and infectious disease prevention, care, and treatment to include patient-centered care for noncommunicable chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension. It is precisely these conditions that make populations especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Since the pandemic began, KHPT’s close partnership with the state and local government, and its own community health workers, have been critical links to helping at-risk people reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19, understand the symptoms, and seek treatment early. It has also provided safe and uninterrupted access to critical health services and therapies throughout the pandemic.

mothers2mothers front-line health workers discussing outreach plans with government nurses during the pandemic in Uganda. Photo by: mothers2mothers.

In sub-Saharan Africa, mothers2mothers provides education and support for pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, alongside broader health services for entire families. During COVID-19, timely and accurate information on the virus has been difficult to access in the communities it serves, so m2m has adapted learnings from the response to the HIV epidemic to create a trustworthy mobile platform with COVID-19 information and service referrals to augment in-person services.

And, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, social justice organization Pillsbury United Communities focuses on meeting the acute needs of its community, while strategizing and planning programs and initiatives to tackle issues and policies that are harmful to its community, including racism, access to education, and community health. With the onset of COVID-19, it recognized an urgent need for basic services, such as food and emergency income support as well as community education on the virus. While doing this, it was also hard at work creating opportunities to provide resources and jobs.

Organizations like these deeply understand their communities’ needs, hold trusting relationships with the people they serve, and understand the barriers that prevent people from achieving better health. They can deliver success not because they are large with substantial sources of funding, but because they know the need better than anyone else.

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The crises of 2020 have pushed funding organizations like ours to evaluate our partners, the programs we support, and the impact we want to achieve. This also has led to a renewed resolve to support partners able to tackle difficult issues — such as systemic racism and wealth inequality — in more courageous and authentic ways.

An opportunity to think — and act — differently

While more people need help today than in years past, nonprofits are listening, innovating, and acting in new and unprecedented ways. Those in the philanthropic community have a particular opportunity to empower local organizations to act. It is therefore worth considering what you can do to create change and support nonprofits of all sizes in your community. How can you make a lasting impact?

This year, we can lift up more people, help our communities heal, and deliver greater hope for tomorrow — starting today. This giving season, let’s go even further in our beliefs about equity, inclusion, and access. Use the opportunity Giving Tuesday provides to create a spark that drives out racism, breaks down inequalities, delivers better health, and ignites lasting change for all, by remembering local, community-led organizations that may not be seen, but need our partnership.

Visit the Impact Makers series for more coverage on how to better cultivate change through philanthropy. You can join the conversation using the hashtag #ImpactMakers.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Liz Lund

    Liz Lund serves as director of strategic operations and community investment for the Medtronic Foundation, where she oversees a portfolio of targeted community investment opportunities that support diverse communities, address food security, build community resilience, and provide STEM education for underserved people.