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Don't Be Discouraged. Here's How To Help During Coronavirus

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Living in the new normal of the coronavirus pandemic can be a constant source of anxiety, but it's also created new opportunities for community and charitable giving. Even as millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the past few weeks, nonprofits are seeing a huge wave of interest in giving back. It's easy to feel discouraged and overwhelmed when so many people are struggling in all different ways. But there are ways to help, financially and otherwise. Here are four tips on giving back during the coronavirus pandemic:

1. If you don't know where to start, give locally.

Many charities have been forced into crisis mode right now. "Nonprofits, especially those providing health care and those serving basic needs in communities, face exceptional challenges. They're having to manage increased demand with constraints in their capacity and also concerns about the health and safety of their staff and the people they serve and their volunteers," says Una Osili, professor of philanthropy and economics at Indiana University. Corinne Cannon, founder and executive director of the  Greater D.C. Diaper Bank, explains that they've had to completely rework their operations, all while meeting a 300% increase in demand for diapers and formula. "Giving locally can be a powerful way to lend a hand and support the neighborhoods and communities where you live," says Osili. If you can't decide what specific local charity to give to, many cities are creating  community response funds. That way, your donation goes to a few different causes.

2. Do your homework.

Before you give, research an organization you want to donate to so you can give to places you can trust. You can use research tools like  Charity Navigator to assess an organization's effectiveness. When in doubt, give to places that have already been doing work in your community. "I think it's really important to look to the organizations who've been doing work in your community for years," says Cannon. "They're going to be the folks who have the scale and knowledge to be the most effective right now."

3. Check in to see what actually needs to be donated.

Many nonprofits have had to change their focus, their volunteering guidelines, or both. Before you donate, say canned goods or other supplies, make sure that's what the organization really needs right now.

4. Giving is more than just money.

If you don't have spare funds but want to help, you can! "You can give of your time, your talent, your treasure," says Osili. "And with social media, we've added testimony and ties." Many organizations, like food banks, still need volunteers and are offering ways to do so and still comply with social distancing protections. "That means staying six feet apart, hand washing, cleaning high-touch places and limiting the number of volunteers," says Osili. "I recommend calling ahead before you show up at the volunteer site." Cannon says the Greater D.C. Diaper Bank is still taking volunteers. "We've put in some very strict protocols to make sure that we are following social distancing and we are keeping our volunteers safe and our staff safe," she says. "Most of the nonprofits I've spoken to are still utilizing volunteers but in a different or reduced capacity." Other organizations, Osili says, are asking for virtual volunteers, "for example, mentoring organizations. And you can find out more through  VolunteerMatch, as one example." If you're feeling healthy, offer to pick up groceries for your elderly neighbor or donate blood. (The Red Cross is following  enhanced safety protocols to keep donors safe.) "If you do fall into a high-risk group and face underlying health conditions ... it might be safer to do a virtual volunteer opportunity." says Osili. And remember, anyone can still share a fundraiser on social media, so others can get inspired.

We'd love to hear how you're giving back during the coronavirus pandemic. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at  LifeKit@npr.org . Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode. If you want more Life Kit subscribe to our newsletter . The audio portion of this story was produced by Andee Tagle and aired as part of NPR's new show  The National Conversation .

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