How True Given is investing in infrastructure that will outlive the pandemic

Wed 19 May 2021

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, there are times when any of us can come up short. It could be because something big and unexpected happens, like an illness or a death in the family, or it could be the normal ups and downs of life. But, in those moments, we turn to our community for help.

During these times, we often look to those closest to us for support. Sometimes we receive assistance, but in most cases, we are unable to receive the much-needed support. 

Our Solution

True Given an innovative low-cost technology for mission-based organizations to manage, track, and deploy cash grants to individuals and communities in need. True Given was founded to provide help during these unexpected events connecting philanthropy to the community. Our mission to create a new type of fund, the relief funds — seeded by corporations, community organizations, foundations, and non-profits — that provides cash grants to families and individuals in moments of need. We bridge a gap between participants in the fundraising community (foundations, non-profit organizations, municipalities, donors, philanthropists, and corporations) and beneficiaries.

The COVID Effect.

 In early 2020, we had just completed two proof of concept tests with community organizations and were in the midst of a redesign. When much of the U.S. went on lockdown in March, our tech team accelerated our work to launch our pilot program in October.

Feedback So Far...

We heard from Jose, who had received an eviction notice just weeks after his child’s birth. Jose and his husband had both been unable to work because of COVID-19. Their intense financial stress contributed to Jose’s overall health, which their doctor was concerned, would result in hypertension. When he found the True Given platform was approved for a grant by our partner organization, Jose paid their rent, avoided eviction, and bought a month’s worth of groceries. Jose said to us: “My wife and I cried of relief when my request for funds was approved. We were so relieved that we would not be on the street and that we would be able to get food for our kids.”

We heard from Alicia, who had taken an unpaid leave of absence to help her elderly mother recover from surgery. When COVID-19 made it impossible to return to work, she didn’t know what she would do about her mother’s mounting medical bills and her own mortgage. An email about the Grant Circle showed up just in time. Alicia said,

“The day I received cash relief funds was a big day for me that I will never forget. It was like I was drowning and someone came out to save me.”

In the 2 months since True Given launched, a lot of what we’ve seen is what you would expect. Almost three-quarters of the grant requests that we’ve received are related to loss of income due to COVID-19. Because the maximum cash relief amount for most of our clients is $500, and because the economic fall-out from the pandemic is ongoing, few people report that this money is sufficient for them to get entirely back on their feet. That said, the grants are absolutely helping. People report feeling less stressed, having breathing room to figure out their next steps, and avoiding late fees and shut-off of services like telephone, internet, and utilities, and other more dire consequences like rising debt burdens, poor health outcomes, or eviction.

The cash relief funds also make people feel good about their community organizations and businesses. We heard statements like, “I’m so thankful to be part of this community and for businesses that stand beside you during such hard times,” and (in the heartwarming AND heartbreaking category),

“I have never lived in a place where my community organizations and corporations have cared about my wellbeing, and I was touched when they partnered with True Given as a way to support us.”

What may be more surprising for many people is how similar these stories and sentiments are to what we saw with other cash relief programs and other similar initiatives. Even then, at the height of the U.S. economy’s strength and despite historically low unemployment numbers, over half of the grant applications that we received cited the loss of income as an event precipitating the relief fund request. Even then, what people needed to spend the money on was basic living expenses: food, utilities, rent. Even then, what people described when talking about why they needed the grant was drowning, followed by feelings of relief and gratitude when they received the funds.

The way that COVID-19 has torn through our society has made the financial fragility that many people live with painfully clear. That clarity gave rise to immediate and extraordinary generosity. Philanthropic foundations and individuals stepped up, raising billions of dollars through tens of thousands of relief campaigns. Even in the small fundraising campaigns conducted as a part of our pilot program, the number of people contributing funds was greater than the number of people requesting grants.

However, for millions of Americans, this financial fragility was here before the pandemic, and it will be here afterward. Financial fragility is not purely the result of a massive, short-lived spike in unemployment. It results from low wages and insufficient benefits for workers, combined with the high and rising cost of living. It is the result of the generations of injustice that have led white household wealth to be seven times greater than Black or Hispanic household wealth, which means that even though family and friends stretch as much as they can to help each other, communities of color have fewer resources with which to do so.

The heartbreak of financial fragility will not disappear when COVID-19 does, but nor will our heartwarming instinct to help each other. In this rare moment when our nation is taking a forced collective pause, long-ignored inequalities are being brought into the spotlight. We have an opportunity, right now, to not only reflect on the systems that keep people down but also to work on solutions that help people rise. Now is the time to invest in infrastructure that will outlive the pandemic and help us continue to help each other.

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