Our Views

Stories of charitable giving in response to COVID-19

For a variety of different reasons, many high net-worth individuals include charitable giving as part of their wealth management plans – whether to reduce tax on large capital gains, drive social change, or unite family around a common cause. During the COVID-19 crisis, the ways some have innovated, adapted and enhanced their philanthropy has been truly inspiring.

“We’ve seen a sharp uptick in grants to charities on the part of our donors during this time of COVID-19,” explains J. Denise Castonguay, founder and CEO of Canada Gives, a public foundation that helps individuals or families establish and manage their own foundation accounts, also known as donor advised funds (DAFs).

In fact, Canada Gives, which is Newport’s administrator for Foundation Accounts, processed four to five times more grants than usual on behalf of its clients in the first quarter of 2020.

The foundation advantage

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the fact that having an effective structure in place can dramatically boost the impact that a donor can make.

For example, clients with private foundations or foundation accounts (which require a minimum commitment of $25,000), and who have made a longer-term commitment to philanthropy, are able to respond in more efficient, targeted ways in times of financial hardship or acute crises such as COVID-19.

“People don’t realize that if they want to do more than simply write a cheque to their favourite charity, there are logistical challenges to high-impact philanthropy,” Castonguay explains. “In a challenging situation like this, professional help and the right structure can make a huge difference.”

Delivering pandemic relief to rural families in the Congo

A wonderful example of the flexibility comes from one long-time Newport client’s support of charitable activities overseas.

Tina was an early supporter of the Malaika school for girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was founded in 2011. The school offers free primary and secondary education to nearly 350 girls each year, while providing two meals a day to students.

Once the school was completed, Tina assisted the larger community by supporting additional classrooms located at the community hub, which now offers vocational training to the local area and has become a busy hive of social and cultural activity for all ages. Tina provided more funding to help cover the school’s annual operational needs and to sponsor individual students. She’s also been an enthusiastic fundraiser, encouraging others to get involved, as Newport has done, by sponsoring girls through each school year through to graduation.

But when COVID-19 struck, the Malaika school was forced to shut down. The school’s administrators soon realized that the students and their families were going without food due to the closure. Outbreak or not, they knew they had to act.

A philanthropist springs into action

So, the administrators pivoted and began delivering food baskets and other supplies to families in need. That outreach was made possible by Tina’s continued generosity.

Because she had an existing foreign charitable project in place with Canada Gives, she was able to transfer additional funds to her Canada Gives account, which then wired the funding to the Congo within a day—all without being hampered by the legal and logistical roadblocks of giving outside Canada.

That immediate funding is feeding 60 families for three months.

“There are many complications, contractual issues and bureaucratic scrutiny when you give charitable money away off-shore, but because the Malaika project was already in place and had a history, we could turn the funding around quickly,” Castonguay says.

Getting better results from your charitable giving

It can be difficult – especially for those new to philanthropy – to know where to direct your charitable giving dollars, even when you know the types of causes you want to support. How much to give to each? Do I concentrate my giving to make the most impact, or spread it around to reach more people? How do I measure impact and results?

“Once a foundation account is in place, even if it isn’t funded, we can help donors research charities and develop a giving strategy based on the causes that are important to them, then help them build relationships with those charities or non-profits,” says Karen Dillon, Canada Gives’ Director of Foundation and Donor Services.

“We can also act as a buffer between the donor and charities, so they’re not inundated by fundraising requests and they get to preserve their anonymity. We can gather the right information to help them make an informed giving decision, all with confidence that their donation will have the desired impact.”

Laptops for learning

Because Canada Gives’ client service team is in constant contact with the donors and the charities they support across Canada, they can make high-impact connections as needs change across the charitable sector. That’s especially useful when a donor comes to them seeking recommendations on how to support a certain type of need or program. Sometimes the opposite happens.

That was the case when another Newport client requested that a substantial grant be made to the Toronto-based Sky’s the Limit Youth Organization from his Canada Gives Foundation Account.

Sky’s the Limit has provided refurbished laptops to marginalized and at-risk youth across the GTA since 2003. With children across Ontario suddenly required to learn from home, it became clear that many in lower-income households wouldn’t be able acquire laptops or afford home internet access to continue their education. The donor wanted to help the charity, and knew he needed to act fast.

The Canada Gives team completed the required due diligence on Sky’s the Limit and through this process gained first-hand knowledge of the charity, its processes, its goals and the increased demand for its services due to the pandemic. They were impressed.

So when another donor indicated he had an interest in supporting education for at-risk youth but wasn’t sure how to go about it, Canada Gives was then able to connect him to Sky’s the Limit as well – which gave him confidence his money would be put to work in a small, high-impact organization that had already been vetted.

A lasting legacy

As Tina and so many other Newport clients have found, being able to create positive change in their communities—and even abroad, as in the case with the Malaika school—delivers a new sense of joy and purpose. Their accomplishment takes an entirely new meaning in the midst of a devastating social, public health and economic crisis such as the current one.

It’s also a way to instill a sense of philanthropic responsibility across generations. Many of our clients involve their children, be they adults or youth, in the giving process. The goal is to remind them not only that others may not be as fortunate, but that they have a duty to use their wealth in transformative ways.

“Whether it’s to help a charity in a time of crisis or at any time, philanthropy can change lives both for the recipient and the donor,” says Castonguay.