The pivotal role of place-based giving during the COVID-19 pandemic

Place-based giving focuses on supporting the development of local communities and has been a key part of Macquarie Group’s approach to philanthropy in EMEA for many years.

Even in this increasingly digital world, the physical presence of large organisations can have a tangible impact on their local communities. It’s for this reason that place-based giving continues to play an important role in Macquarie Group’s philanthropic approach.

COVID-19 has disrupted fundraising activity and at times, access to communities, increasing the need for support for the most vulnerable, while also changing the way in which support is delivered. When the pandemic began, the Macquarie Group Foundation (the Foundation) launched a $A20 million COVID-19 donation fund focussed on initially supporting organisations providing direct relief and research, and most recently economic recovery. 

The pandemic has demonstrated how people can work together to overcome global problems, explains Dan Wong, Global Co-Head of Macquarie Capital, and a Macquarie Group Foundation Committee member. He says, “when COVID-19 hit, it was clear that we needed to step-up our support to the communities in which we live and work through place-based giving. The pandemic was having the biggest impact at local community level, and this is also where we saw the greatest lag in funding. We moved quickly to provide additional support through our existing partnerships already established through our employees and the work of the Foundation.”

Rachel Engel, Head of the Foundation in EMEA explains, “we took a flexible funding approach with our existing grant partners, meaning they could pivot the funding approved for that year into other aspects of their work such as digital support, enabling them to continue to deliver projects in a virtual environment.”

In addition to Macquarie’s long-term grant partners, eight non-profits across the region received a grant from the COVID-19 donation fund for direct relief. Beneficiaries included the International Rescue Committee with funding going to support refugee camps in Greece and other migrant populations around the world, Caritas Austria, with support to help people experiencing homelessness with food, accommodation and living costs. SafetyNet Primary Care in Ireland was also supported to help provide additional staffing and equipment for its mobile health units to support COVID-19 testing for vulnerable groups across the country.

Coordinated and collaborative approach

The increased collaboration from place-based giving movements is key to the approach taken by London Funders, another recipient of Macquarie’s COVID-19 fund. A membership organisation comprised of over 170 funders from across sectors, London Funders exists to enable funders from all sectors to be effective.  London Funders is focused on collaboration – convening funders to connect, contribute and cooperate together, to help people across the capital’s communities to live better lives.

London Funders has coordinated the London Community Response, launched in March 2020, this collaborative funding vehicle brings together 67 funders and provides one entry point for charities seeking financial help to deal with the impact of the pandemic in its locality.

The coordinated, place-based giving response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy had laid the foundations for this, coordinating a series of collaborative funding programmes to ensure civil society groups across the voluntary, community and faith sectors - were supported in their vital work with people in North Kensington. COVID-19 presented a similar challenge, but on a much greater scale.

“Four days after the first lockdown we held a Zoom meeting with over 100 funders,” explains James Banks, CEO, London Funders. “We started building the platform for applications for the London Community Response on Monday and we opened for business on Friday.” The single-entry point for applications not only made the process of getting essential funding to local non-profits extremely quick and efficient, but the mass of data produced provided valuable insight into ensuring funding was distributed equitably and can now be used to inform policy development.

As place-based giving attracts more interest it’s also being put into practice in a more coordinated, collaborative way. “Take the example of preventing young people from being the victims of violent crime,” says James. “You need a London-wide approach, but the practical solutions are local, they’re based around a person, a community and a family. Now, thanks to this funding model we’re developing these links and seeing real results.”

Staff led localism

Macquarie's COVID-19 funding approach also included a $A1 million programme for staff-supported non-profits. This was an extension of Macquarie’s existing programme to further support staff who give their time to causes they’re passionate about through volunteering, fundraising, pro bono support or through serving on non-profit boards.

As Dan explains: “The way we operate as a business is extremely entrepreneurial and staff-led, we encourage our staff to bring opportunities to us and then we back them to go out and make things happen. We take the same approach with our philanthropic work, empowering and engaging our staff to support their communities and causes in a way that’s meaningful for them, with the Foundation providing the framework and risk controls required.”

Localism among the staff was also very much in evidence. “People went hyper-local, they really wanted to support what was happening on their doorstep,” explains Rachel. “For me, place-based giving is not just about funding and donations, but also about the experience and knowledge that our staff can provide to help local communities.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Macquarie’s efforts have not only included supplying technology such as laptops and tablets to schools, but also enabled staff to give something equally important – their time and skills. This has involved a range of activities, from virtual youth mentoring to letter writing to older people who might feel isolated in the local area.

Partnerships are key to targeting aid and to delivering it more quickly, explains Rachel. “We collaborate with local residents as well as schools, charities and the council among others because they have the expertise and the contacts,” she says. “It’s not just a case of jumping in and deciding for ourselves where we think help is needed. We’re mission led; we send our people in to help where it’s needed most.”

With COVID-19 significantly accelerating the need for giving, and initial emphasis on providing direct relief with speed, place-based giving movements came to rise. A year on since the UK went into its first lockdown, Rachel explains “it was great that we were able to be entrepreneurial, act quickly to agree funding channels and pivot our funding to where it was needed most. Now looking at what has been learnt over the past year, and with the initial shock of a global pandemic past, we’re shifting our focus to non-profits that are supporting workers and businesses in restarting economic activity, as the world hopefully begins to re-open and normalise.”