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How To Give Back During The Coronavirus Pandemic

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Tis the season of giving, and the holidays are a time to give not just to friends and family, but also those in need. You might be feeling extra charitable this holiday season, given the year it's been. And because of the pandemic, there are so many communities that are hurting. Here to guide us through making donations this year is professor Katherina Rosqueta. She is the founding director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Welcome to the program.

KATHERINA ROSQUETA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What kind of nonprofit organizations do you think have been most badly hit by the pandemic?

ROSQUETA: That's a very hard question to answer because literally everyone is affected, although they may be affected in different ways. So for example, who do we often rely on in emergencies? We rely on places that can provide emergency food, and they usually get armies of volunteers to bring food to those who need it. Well, in a pandemic, you can't send out armies of volunteers. So that's a way that it's affecting some of our emergency relief organizations. You know, nonprofits also include arts organizations, museums. They can't have their programs. Theaters can't count on their revenue. So those are just some of the examples. But I honestly - I cannot think of a nonprofit that hasn't been affected by COVID.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, when we're thinking about this moment, you know, we're seeing these extraordinary images of car lines that stretch for miles waiting on food. We know that people are being evicted from their homes.

ROSQUETA: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If I want to donate, if I want to help, how should I decide where to donate this year?

ROSQUETA: Well, there are some general principles around high-impact giving. Unlike in other situations where we might say, you know what? Do your research. Find a great organization - that takes time. And organizations and communities don't have time right now. So the best advice that we can give is if there is a nonprofit organization that you already know of, that you've already been giving to, that you trust, maybe you and your family have been a beneficiary of their services, give to them now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And of course, many people may not have extra funds this year because of the situation, but you can also donate your time, right? How do you suggest people go about that?

ROSQUETA: Normally, every, you know, organization who takes on volunteers would have lots of opportunities. But now, because of a concern around the spread of the disease, a lot of those kind of typical end-of-the-year volunteer opportunities no longer exist - and so looking for virtual opportunities and looking for very local opportunities that usually you're going to find in your hyper-local media - so things like neighborhood groups, et cetera.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What kind of donations do you think will be the most valuable - money, clothes, food, toys? Is it better to give things, or is it better to give cash?

ROSQUETA: This is always the case, but particularly in a crisis or a disaster - so when we think of disasters, we think of natural disasters like a hurricane or man-made disasters like conflict. You know, in a lot of ways, COVID is a combination of both this year. In any kind of crisis or disaster, it is always better to give money. And that's because money is more flexible and because the needs on the ground can change very quickly. Donations of items can be really challenging, especially when you have nonprofits who already may not have all of their personnel available because of COVID, either because, you know, the staff are sick or they're caring for a child who's not in school or a sick relative.

So cash or money is always better because it allows those first responders to respond in whatever way is needed at that moment. And what matters, what is needed today, may be very different than what's needed next week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Katherina Rosqueta is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy.

Thank you very much.

ROSQUETA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.