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March 5, 2021

How generosity will fuel COVID relief

In her 1993 essay entitled The Sweetness of Charity, Maya Angelou urges readers to rethink their notions of giving:

If we change the way we think of charity, our personal lives will be richer and the larger world will be improved. When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.

To Angelou, the giver and receiver are not separate entities. Rather, they are parts of a whole, and both are essential to a “richer and larger world.”

At Reading Partners, giving is an integral part of our operation. We depend on donations from local communities to continue offering the literacy support our students depend on. In turn, we offer those same communities the chance to make a real impact through tutoring.

Tutors provide students with the tools they need to become confident readers and eventually vibrant, engaged members of their community. And in return, students give their energy, commitment, and trust to tutors as they progress in reading.

In short, giving and receiving are core parts of our mission statement and part of the magic of Reading Partners.

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The real impacts of COVID-19

The past year has been marked by significant change in so many facets of the nonprofit industry. At Reading Partners we had to quickly pivot to an all-virtual platform, Reading Partners Connects, to accommodate remote learning environments.

In an article in The New York Times on giving in 2020, Laura Plato, the chief solutions officer of VolunteerMatch, salutes the swift and creative efforts of nonprofits over the last year:

Nonprofits are doing an amazing job not only of innovating but adhering to C.D.C. guidelines. [They’ve] really leaned in to the virtual and hybrid side of things.

But this level of innovation and change comes with a price tag. Fortunately, according to Fast Company, GiveWell reported a surge in donations throughout 2020. By last October, donations had increased by $20 million, a 36 percent increase compared to the same time period in 2019. This surge in giving allowed many nonprofits to continue their critical work throughout the pandemic. But even after we conquer COVID-19, there will still be a large need for this support.

For example, the literacy work we do at Reading Partners will be even more critical in the coming months and years as we better understand the impacts of learning loss brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While not every child has felt this loss (some kids are loving remote learning), McKinsey & Company reports that the average student is about three months behind in mathematics and one and a half months behind in reading. This is further exacerbated in communities that have been historically marginalized due to issues such as a lack of direct teacher contact, internet connection, and technological learning devices.

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Rethinking giving

The beauty of giving is that anyone can participate. Whether you donate your time, money, or expertise, there are always organizations that will benefit from your generosity.

Nonprofit Quarterly suggests that one way of giving that has gained traction in recent years – giving circles. Giving circles have long been a part of Black communities and carry both cultural and historical significance.

Nonprofit Quarterly writes that “collective kinship giving models, such as susu (or sou-sou), are a system of saving and distributing resources for the material welfare and spiritual wellbeing of each other found throughout the Caribbean with roots in West Africa.”

Giving circles have increased in popularity in recent years due to their capacity to democratize giving. Executive Director of Philanthropy Together, Sara Lomin, states:

A giving circle is a group of like-minded individuals that get together to create change in their communities. They talk about their values and they decide together where to put their talent, their time, their treasure, and their testimony.

You can find giving circles in states and cities around America. Philanthropy Together is a great resource for finding collective giving groups in your area.

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What’s next?

As you think about how you will spend your time and resources this year, we urge you to remember that giving is always an essential part of any community. Organizations like Reading Partners have been so grateful to receive such strong community support throughout the pandemic. We will continue to foster both old and new relationships as we move forward in our work. Whether you donate your time through volunteering or your resources as an individual or part of a collective, your contributions are essential to the success of so many organizations.

In the words of Angelou, “giving liberates the soul of the giver.” With the support of our communities, we look forward to empowering the next generation of readers this year and every year after.

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