Coronavirus, economic crisis and philanthropy, the last “black swan”!

©Esri France

Opinion column by Antoine Vacarro, President of Force For Good by Faircom.

A few days ago, at the request of a fund-raising magazine, I started an article entitled :

Is the mobilization for the reconstruction of Notre Dame the Black Swan1 of French generosity?

when the spread and acceleration of the Covid 19 pandemic occurred in Europe.

It is probably this event which will constitute for the whole planet and for the philanthropic universe, the real Black Swan.

The extraordinary seriousness of this pandemic in open societies such as our western democracies, which for more than 60 years have been spared wars on their soil and famines, convinced of the capacity of modern medicine to protect them against any scourge, increases the staggering effect.

The coming days and weeks will reveal human tragedies in many families.  The situation has been underestimated and, according to some experts, a tsunami of severe cases could overwhelm hospitals.

The duration of this calamity is another factor that will weigh heavily on the minds of populations unaccustomed to long periods of stress. The calendar of events that loomed large for our fellow citizens was: Easter holidays, the Cannes Film Festival, Roland Garros, the Tour de France… A normal life cycle that seems quite futile today.

The consequences of this virus will be devastating for our societies.

What will be the impact on the philanthropic sector, made up of thousands of organizations, volunteers and dedicated volunteers working with those who need it most?

From my long experience as a fundraiser, our sector has experienced several moments of great crisis: the attacks of September 11, 2001, the subprime crisis of September 2008. While generosity has subsided, it has not collapsed and has quickly recovered and caught up.

The previous epidemics, SARS and H1N1, were barely captured by the collection indicators. Generosity continued to grow in a linear fashion, without quivering.

It is true that we have never had the combination of a pandemic and a severe economic crisis like the ones looming.

In the last 30 years, French donations have reached record levels.

The events that have marked these peaks in generosity date back to the 1980s:

1985 = Famine in Ethiopia

1989 = Earthquake in Armenia

1991 = Gulf War

1994 = Genocide in Rwanda

1999 = Kosovo War

2004 = Indonesian Tsunami

2010 = Earthquake in Haiti

2019 = Fire of Notre Dame

In each of these disasters, the outpouring of generosity has benefited not only the organizations directly concerned, but the entire philanthropic sector.

It is as if the donors, dumbfounded by the gravity of the events reported to them by the media, aware of the fragility of our societies, did not wish to abandon the causes that are dear to them.

I have called this the bubble of generosity. We will know in a few months time whether the fire at Notre Dame, which mobilised nearly a billion euros, an absolute record for all causes combined, confirms this phenomenon of irradiating generosity to all philanthropic causes.

The vision of what is happening in Italy is an electroshock and French public opinion has understood that it could suffer the same disaster.

Above all, it has understood that beyond a certain number of serious cases, the French health care system, despite the dedication, not to say the self-sacrifice, of all health care personnel and especially hospital staff, will not be able to cope.

This awareness, beyond the civic attitude required by this pandemic, will trigger a powerful surge of admiration and support for researchers and health care workers so that they have the means to combat this calamity.

A Bubble of Generosity will undoubtedly inflate, because donors still have this form of generosity merging with the most fragile, which should not be lacking to organizations fighting, at such a time, against all forms of fragility (disabled, elderly) and precariousness (homeless, excluded, children in danger) in France and internationally, even if aid to the underprivileged populations around the world will not be their priority. The church will also be the beneficiary of this bull (pardon the pun) because, at all times, major epidemics trigger a real religious fervour.

We can hope that this boom of generosity will work at a time that reminds us of the great planetary crises of the early 20th century.

A few weeks after the fire at Notre Dame, I praised the momentum of solidarity unleashed by the Pinault, Arnault2 and Bettencourt families, who alone contributed 500 million euros.

Their silence or inaction during the dramatic situation our country is going through would be most unwelcome. Anglo-American and Chinese billionaires, as well as many international companies, are constantly announcing their support for the research teams and health care providers in their countries by offering money, equipment, tests, etc., and by offering to help them in their work.

If I can suggest to them a modality that would multiply their possible commitment tenfold, it would be to propose the doubling of the sums paid by individual donors to such and such a foundation or association, in the front line of this fight, and this within a limit that would be defined in advance.

France has a welfare state that is one of the most involved in taking care of the general interest. The scale and scope of social needs far exceed its capacity for redistribution. Companies and citizens must also voluntarily take their share of the burden. Social needs are increasingly numerous and urgent. The mobilization of all is one of the guarantors of social cohesion. This is the meaning of philanthropic commitment.

1The Black Swan is a theory according to which a certain unpredictable event that has a low probability of occurring (called a “rare event” in probability theory) is called a black swan and, if it does occur, has far-reaching and exceptional consequences.

2At the time of publication, LVMH was in the process of setting up its plants to manufacture millions of hydroalcoholic gel bottles.

The map of the evolution of the Coronavirus can be consulted here.


Antoine Vaccaro

D. in Organizational Science – Management of Non-Market Economies, Paris-Dauphine, 1985. After a professional career in large non-governmental organizations and communication groups: Fondation de France, Médecins du Monde, TBWA; he is President of CerPhi (Centre d’étude et de recherche sur la philanthropie) Force For Good, by Faircom and the Fund-raising Lab. He holds various volunteer positions within associations and foundations.  He is also co-founder of several professional organizations promoting private funding of public interest causes: Association Française des fundraisers, Comité de la charte de déontologie des organismes faisant appel à la générosité publique, Euconsult, La chaire de Philanthropie de l’Essec, 2011. He has published various books and articles on philanthropy and fund-raising.



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