COVID-19: This Is What We’re Doing; It’s Not Enough

Posted in News Story

By Hanh Le

April 15, 2020

Hanh Le is the executive director of the Weissberg Foundation, where she oversees strategy development, stakeholder engagement, grantmaking, and operations. Hanh serves on the boards of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers and Asian American LEAD and co-chairs the Metro-DC chapter of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.

This article was originally published on the Weissberg Foundation Blog.

At the same time the COVID-19 crisis creates an unprecedented demand for emergency relief services, it also glaringly exposes and exacerbates deep social, political, and economic inequities that are foundational to our country. True to form with our nation’s ilk of historical oppression, these inequities are taking their greatest toll on individuals and communities of color (new window). Because of this, “emergency response” to the coronavirus crisis necessitates both applying a racial equity frame to meet people’s immediate, basic needs, as well as working equally aggressively to transform the inequitable systems and power structures the crisis lays bare.

What we’re doing

A small foundation—in staff, board, and budget—Weissberg advances systems change for racial justice by leveraging four core strategies (new window): funding, amplification, building capacity, and collaboration. These are the same strategies structuring our response to the COVID crisis. I share them here as they inform our response, but—spoiler alert—I also share them knowing they are woefully inadequate when up against a crisis of this magnitude.


Our general approach to funding is to identify the most promising initiatives centering people directly impacted by structural racism and other systems of oppression and to support them with funding that best meets their needs. We’re staying true to that in this crisis, but super-charging it by moving more money much faster to the groups below.

  • Existing grantee partners: We made $10,000-20,000 unrestricted, no application, and no reporting grants to current multi-year grantee partners in our DMV Power (new window)Equitable Justice (new window), and Reframing <Washington> (new window) program areas. These are predominantly people of color-led groups already working to build power of communities of color to reform or abolish oppressive and unjust systems. On top of that, many are now also engaged in mutual aid efforts and need dollars fast to sustain these networks, as well as to build capacity to transition the once-essential face-to-face work to digital. We also made these grants to partners in our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Theater (new window) program area, who are vital community hubs that contribute to the critical narrative change work needed for cultural and policy change to take root.
  • Intermediary and infrastructure organizations: Philanthropy support organizations and other nonprofit infrastructure groups are moving quickly to disseminate information about the crisis, finding opportunities to convene and collaborate, and getting work done and making change in this new environment. These organizations are the glue that hold together and push the social sector, and we need to increase our support of them.
  • National groups working for federal-level reform: The COVID-19 crisis glaringly exposes failures in how federal systems and policies benefit some and oppress others, in particular black and brown communities. We are exploring funding to national nonprofits working for equitable federal-level reform to strengthen our democracy— especially at such a pivotal time for our country.

ABC Strategies

Our ABC strategies of amplification, building capacity, and collaboration are critical in this crisis. Below are some ways we are activating each of these strategies to ensure a response that addresses immediate needs and is supportive of long-term systems change for racial justice.

  • Collaboration: We are coordinating and/or taking part in a good number of virtual meetings with both grantee partners and funding partners. While we want to hear directly from grantee partners about the issues, opportunities, and needs they are experiencing and seeing, we are cautious about not overburdening them. Where we can, we collaborate with other funders to jointly convene shared grantees. With funding partners, understanding who is giving to which organizations and which might be underfunded

helps ensure we can contribute to a coordinated response that ensures certain groups—particularly the smaller, people of color-led ones organizing for racial justice—are not left out of philanthropy’s COVID-19 response.

Why it’s not enough

For sure, we in philanthropy need to step up, dig deeper, and more fully leverage all the assets at our disposal in and through this moment. Yet the reality is that we can never fill the funding gaps and nonprofits will never meet all of the service gaps that our government should be providing for, and that it and corporations actually sustain and exacerbate.

This crisis will have deep and long-lasting impacts on our country, and what we do now will demonstrate what we value. For the Weissberg Foundation, it’s listening and learning, building power and community, and equity and justice. We will keep plugging away at what we’re already doing in service to these values, and we are challenging ourselves to think and act bigger to collectively build, share, and wield power (H/T NCRP’s Power Moves (new window)) to truly disrupt current systems and build new, equitable, and just ones. Will you join us and hold us accountable?

Additional articles in this series, Leading in Times of Hyper Change, can be found on our website, Facebook and Twitter