Cast your minds back to March, when the world watched as markets tumbled further each day.
As the sheer magnitude of the global crisis gradually became apparent, charities were picking up the phone to corporate and private donors, asking them to give urgently.
I remember the conversations vividly with our long-term supporters from the business community, who described the economic uncertainty — potentially an abyss — they saw in front of them and how they were preparing for substantial financial losses.
In return, I simply explained to them the situation we faced, as an international education charity working in some of the poorest and most remote communities around the world, and our legitimate fear that millions of children would not return to school
What happened next was irrefutable altruism.
They responded with the urgency we needed. Donors in the business community gave swiftly and at times in larger amounts than ever before, without seeking any public recognition.
If the act of altruism is to help others selflessly without private gain, I can offer endless examples of businesses and private individuals doing so this year, to help charitable causes in the UK and beyond.
For many charities, 2020 has proved the strength of business donors, who can act with speed and flexibility in the wake of a crisis. For Room to Read, without these acts of genuine altruistic philanthropy, we would not have been able to continue educating millions of children around the world during school closures, keeping children safe and learning against all the hurdles thrown in their way.
Of course, it would be too generalist to say that all businesses during the past nine months have made decisions based upon pure altruism. Some have fared incredibly well as a result of the pandemic and are perhaps expected to give back. For example, I’ve noted the debate on supermarkets which have profited during the pandemic paying back their tax relief grants, and over 80,000 businesses returning furlough money they turned out not to need. Describing these acts as altruism towards taxpayers might be a step too far.
Yet I can assure you, there are charity fundraisers up and down the country who are extremely grateful and have noticed businesses giving more generously than ever before, despite facing grave uncertainty.
Charities’ thanks to donors is clear, and so is their message: this cannot be a one-off.
Recent data from the Charities Aid Foundation suggests that a quarter of not-for-profits won’t last more than a year if more funding is not received. The Covid crisis has presented extreme funding challenges to charities, at a time when need has been higher than ever.
The news of a vaccine is a cause of celebration, but we should not treat it as a silver bullet. The UK might have been fortunate enough to secure enough doses for the first stage of the rollout, but lower-income countries do not have anywhere near the same level.
The blunt truth from this pandemic is that those in the poorest parts of the world are struggling more than ever — with their economies decimated, their healthcare bills unaffordable, and their children unable to learn.
There will come a time when the pandemic stories won’t be in the headlines any longer, when we here in the UK will feel a sense of normality creep back into our daily routines. That is the moment when businesses’ capacity for altruism must endure — if we are to reverse the devastating ripple effects Covid-19 across the world.
Main image credit: Getty