Direct Giving: Supporting Struggling Americans Amid Historic Pandemic

Woman wearing mask and gloves looking at cleaning supplies on a store shelf
  • Team Schusterman

September 15, 2020

  • Effective Philanthropy
  • COVID-19

Josette, a mother of four from The Bronx, is struggling this year. 

Between groceries, bills and a month-long quarantine following a positive test for coronavirus, she has worried deeply about providing for her children and keeping them healthy and safe. Hers is not an uncommon story. Amid a weak economy and sky-high unemployment, millions of Americans find themselves in situations like Josette’s. Throughout this prolonged and devastating pandemic, families in low-income communities continue to be underserved by inadequate healthcare and are suffering higher rates of mortality.  

For Josette and her family, relief came in the form of a $1,000 payment from Project 100+—an initiative to provide direct financial grants to families with low incomes. Launched as a partnership between GiveDirectly, Fresh EBT and Stand for Children, Project 100+ has distributed over $100 million to more than 100,000 families across 36 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. 

The program has been impactful; 98.9% of every dollar donated through Project 100+ reaches recipients directly through bank accounts, mailed check, PayPal, Venmo, prepaid card or MoneyGram. Two-thirds of recipients reported that their grants helped to keep them in their homes by making rent or mortgage payments. About 40% of recipients reported that Project 100+ grants kept them out of additional debt, allowing families to pay their bills without taking out loans. 

Direct giving initiatives such as Project 100+ ensure dignity of choice to recipients and trusts them to know their greatest needs. It helps ensure that people have to make fewer hard choices and that they maintain access to basic necessities even amid these deeply uncertain times.

At Schusterman, our philanthropic work is substantially focused on strategic grants and systemic change. But as we watch the pandemic wreak economic havoc on millions of families nationwide, we believe there is a need to balance longer-term efforts with immediate short-term assistance and emergency relief. 

As our Chair Stacy Schusterman recently told Inside Philanthropy, “People think foundations’ focus is on systemic change. But this is an emergency moment.”

Of the $130 million in COVID-19 relief funding we have provided so far, more than $90 million has come in the form of direct giving focused on providing aid to those hit hardest by the crisis, including Black Americans, people of color, low-income communities, women, essential workers and other historically marginalized communities. We have employed a variety of direct giving approaches, including emergency grants, expanded micro grants for community initiatives, funder collaboratives and aligned grants with other funders.  

Here are just a few examples of our direct giving efforts so far: 

  • Anchor funding for Project 100+ for direct relief payments to over a hundred thousand struggling American families;
  • Support for various initiatives through Blue Meridian Partners, including United Way/BET COVID-19 Emergency Fund, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as the Center for Employment Opportunities to support formerly incarcerated individuals;
  • Direct cash assistance for undocumented residents denied access to other forms of stimulus funding through the California Immigrant Resilience Fund and the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, among other efforts;
  • Support for essential workers, and families and individuals with low-incomes through organizations such as LIFT, Hebrew Free Loan Society, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Mayvenn and Jews of Color Initiative; and
  • Support for new teachers, especially those from low-income backgrounds, through Teach For America, Urban Teachers and Alder GSE.

In addition to our direct giving initiatives, we have made a number of grants to Jewish organizations—including Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Blue Card, HIAS, IsraAid and Footsteps—that are launching efforts to help meet basic human needs.

We are inspired by the work that these partners are doing to provide direct relief to Americans, such as Josette and her four daughters, who are put most at risk by the ongoing public health and economic crises. Through their efforts, we see the crucial role direct giving plays as communities attempt to handle these historic challenges.