Dr. Andrew Weyrich and Adam Cohen
As we mark two years of life with COVID-19, it looks like we can finally return to the pre-pandemic world. And while we should be wary of premature celebrations – if nothing else, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has shown incredible resilience and adaptability – this is certainly a good time. Like a breath of fresh air.
At times like this, it’s tempting to focus on what’s in front of us. After all, we have a lot to live for that we’ve kept on ice for far too long.
Yet we also need to spend time considering what got us to this point. After all, as the saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
That’s why scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation will continue to study COVID-19. They will continue to examine how the body’s immune system responds to vaccination, and they will do so in different segments of the population. They will also devote a great deal of time and effort to understanding the long COVID and how we can help the millions and millions of people for whom the impact of the infection lingers.
Outside of the realm of science, as an institution we are also looking at the myriad ways the pandemic has affected us. Unsurprisingly, one of those areas affected was fundraising.
During the financial crisis of 2008-09, like many nonprofits, OMRF experienced a drop in giving. With the collapse of the subprime housing market triggering a massive pullback in broader markets, this was hardly surprising.
For individuals, if you don’t feel economically secure, voluntarily disposing of more of your assets would only add to your sense of instability. Similarly, with large philanthropies, giving levels are directly linked to the values of their endowments; this means that when markets crash, so do donations. Ditto for businesses, whose ability to donate is tied to profits.
Fast forward a dozen years to the pandemic. We have once again prepared for a drop in donations. But it never came.
In 2020 and 2021, we saw record levels of donations for our year-end appeal. Estate giving has also increased in previous years and we have successfully completed three fundraising campaigns: two for capital projects and a third for a special endowment for scientific recruitment.
Fortunately, the OMRF was far from the exception. According to Giving USA’s Annual Philanthropy Report, total charitable giving in the United States grew 5.1% in 2020, with individuals, estates, foundations and corporations donating an estimated $471 billion.
Numbers for 2021 are not yet available, but take a step back and think about this news for a moment. At the onset of a once-in-a-century health pandemic that rocked the nation’s economy, Americans responded with record levels of generosity.
Admittedly, the downturn in the stock market in the second half of the year helped. Even before that, however, we saw that in the midst of financial uncertainty and physical peril, people were willing to part with their money to help others.
Giving technology platforms, whether for traditional nonprofit organizations or a broader set of community-focused causes, including support for individuals and local restaurants and service providers whose businesses have been hampered by the pandemic, have evolved considerably in recent years. So there’s no doubt that payment systems ranging from Venmo to Apple Pay have dramatically narrowed the distance between charitable intentions and actual donations.
As Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer recently wrote,[I]In our bizarre pandemic world, money has served as an unexpected social bridge.
At least for now, this weird world seems to have come to an end. But in the area of community support, let’s hope we don’t immediately forget the lessons of the past two years.
Namely, let’s hope that the generosity that marked this period of unprecedented trauma can continue. In this time of growing political division, we can find common ground to support causes that matter to us all.
Dr. Andrew Weyrich is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and Adam Cohen is senior vice president and general counsel for OMRF. They can be contacted at [email protected]