Philanthropic benevolence

A Tribune by Antoine Vaccaro on philanthropy in the Covid-19 era.

The ordeal that our societies have been going through since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic is staggering, because it was unimaginable in a world convinced that it had, if not dominated nature, at least domesticated it.

The awakening is painful, because it comes at a time when many experts and scientists prophesied, thanks to Artificial Intelligence, such dazzling progress that life expectancy would exceed 200 years[1].

And patatras, our post-modern societies, to respond to the spread of a most pernicious virus, apply protections worthy of the 19th century (mask, hand washing, and containment) to try to slow it down while a cure and/or a vaccine is found.

Pride and vanity!

Many things have been said and written during this period of general confinement, notably about the blockage of the world economies, at a level never seen since the Second World War, about the dedication of the nursing staff and all the logisticians who ensured the supply of the country. Those whom a certain elite described as invisible, the little hands, who at the risk of their health, professionally carried out their mission.

I want to salute, here, the staff of the emblematic retirement home (EHPAD) of Mansle in Charente, who confined themselves with their residents, to avoid them a contamination that would have been disastrous.

From then on, countries split into two camps. Those whose governments were or are in denial and gave priority to the economy at the expense of the lives of their older and more fragile citizens, and those who put the protection of life above all other contingencies.

The dividing line has been roughly drawn between so-called populist governments, giving little credence to the conclusions and recommendations of scientists, and developing a “divisive” supremacist rhetoric between the strong and the weak, and those governments committed to protecting their people, at the cost of an unparalleled economic depression.

The Shakespearean alternative to which this “facetious” virus subjects us is: “Either you move and I will infect you and kill your old men. Or stay confined and you will experience the greatest economic crisis you have ever known”.

Storm under a skull!

Numerous criticisms have been directed at the decision-makers, sometimes justified, often polemical, but on balance, it seems that a very large majority of opinion has sided with the executives who have, as best they can, acted benevolently in the face of the greatest challenge they have faced in ages.

From then on, faced with the surge of “conspiracy theories”, putting philanthropic billionaires, pharmaceutical laboratories and Chinese geopolitics in the same bag, a large part of the population, astounded, will give the best of itself by acting with remarkable discipline and altruism.

The robustness of the generosity of the French, and more generally of the civil societies of the affected countries, during the most tense period of containment, was strong and is an indicator of collective resilience.

As early as March 18, I announced, in an article published in Défis Humanitaires [2], the inflation of a bubble of generosity which, as in every humanitarian crisis, grows to benefit all causes of general interest.

Probably a speculative vision because, for the first time, the crisis was directly affecting donors. Nothing comparable to mobilizing for the victims of a tsunami or a distant earthquake. Covid-19 directly concerns the whole population, including donors. This bubble logically inflated to the benefit of the organizations which are at the heart of this struggle: healthcare workers and researchers. But other structures acting alongside the most vulnerable, destitute or precarious; such as Emmaus, which had never appealed for financial donations, saw its €5 million emergency appeal exceeded by more than €2 million. Médecins du Monde and Secours Populaire also saw their collections increase.

We were therefore able to grasp the reality of this bubble which followed, as always, a Gauss curve, going in this case from mid-March – beginning of the confinement – to mid-May – beginning of the de-confinement.

Digital collection has increased by 600% compared to the same period in 2019 [3], all causes combined.

Organizations not accustomed to donor funding have seen an influx of unsolicited donations. The Assistance publique hôpitaux de Paris (APHP) and many other public and private hospitals throughout France accounted for nearly €100 million in donations. This is a record for actors who are far removed from the traditional philanthropic impulses.

The double-digit growth in the collection of donations for the general interest sector, compared to the drop in GDP of minus 30% over this period, is enough to demonstrate this.

And this financial part is only the tip of the iceberg. Mobilizations of all kinds have marked this confinement. Bakers offered pastries to hospital patients; restaurant owners among the most affected by this blockade emptied their refrigerators to the benefit of associations or families in difficulty. Some shopkeepers, who were able to stay open, offered drinks to the garbage collectors; organic box associations (AMAP) provided solidarity baskets to associations working with the homeless.

Thousands of small gestures by thousands of hummingbirds [4] trying to ease the rigors of this painful moment.

This epidemic has suddenly brought us back to the question of commitment and courage around the corner. Not that of the humanitarian in a war zone, but “that of the nurse who gets up in the early morning to take her shift in her intensive care unit, where a terrifying battle is taking place, to care for patients, out of breath, struck down by the Covid-19.

The face of heroism suddenly becomes more common and humble.

“These invisible people, whom we nevertheless admire but do not see: nurses, caregiver, firemen, all the emergency doctors, remind us that what we used to call little hands are infinitely more useful to us than the heroes of the stadium and other media celebrities whose feats, escapades, and lesser anecdotes make the headlines”[5].

The daily 8 p.m. appointment, when millions of people applauded the caregivers, is the quintessential expression of the gratitude expressed by an entire people suspended at the uncertain outcome of this confrontation, and is a simple form of the benevolence that gripped our society.


Antoine Vaccaro

President of the Center for Study and Research on Philanthropy (Cerphi)

President of Force for Good


Who is Antoine Vaccaro?

Antoine Vaccaro has a PhD 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 chairs CerPhi (Centre for Study and Research on Philanthropy) Force For Good, by Faircom and the Fund-raising Lab.

He holds various volunteer positions within associations and foundations and 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.

[1] Vivre 1000 Philippe Alexandre