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Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and president of the IU Health Foundation, is a national leader in healthcare philanthropy. Here, she shares her personal reflections.
One of the scenes that replays in my mind from the past year is walking into my office early in the pandemic to find a huge Panera delivery bag full of cloth masks. Sewing those masks was someone’s way of contributing to the fight against COVID-19.
As we experience challenges, we often search for ways to play a role in the solution. People want to feel they have a purpose and that they’re contributing to the bigger cause.
Unfortunately, when challenges are as massive as the ones we faced in the past year, the everyday person can find it difficult to feel that he or she has a role. In 2020, people found that role through philanthropy, but not necessarily philanthropy in the most traditional sense.
So often we think of philanthropy narrowly, such as wealthy people contributing money to causes. While we certainly witnessed and appreciated many examples of that kind of philanthropy in the past year, we also benefited collectively from a different, more grass-roots form of giving and generosity.
Almost immediately after COVID-19 arrived in Indiana, IU Health heard from countless Hoosiers who wanted to contribute something tangible to the pandemic response: they wanted to give us masks, feed our teams and donate bottles of water. Whatever they had, could get, or could make ... they wanted to give.
I was proud to watch as the IU Health Foundation team figured out how to take in and distribute, on a dime, massive quantities of donated items on a scale we've never seen. We established and streamlined a process allowing people to give food to frontline teammates. We also developed a plan for receiving homemade masks, which we were able to distribute to congregations and organizations that could, in turn, provide them to vulnerable people in the community. (Our team members at IU Health must use medical-grade masks, so we shared the sewed ones with others.)
At the same time, I was incredibly moved by the sight of our IU Health team itself engaging in philanthropy; most notably by giving to a fund that supports their fellow team members. Some IU Health team members’ spouses lost jobs during the pandemic. Others had family members who became ill. Many had to care for extended family members, or faced childcare challenges, or found themselves with other unexpected expenses. Because of this, our Team Member Support Fund was leaned on heavily during the pandemic, and IU Health team members who were able to, contributed heavily to it last year. Through this fund, we distributed roughly $80,000 to 80 team members in 2019 and $665,000 to 750 team members in 2020.
Generous gifts from donors also allowed us to support the creation of “tranquility spaces” for caregivers. These rooms were set aside for IU Health team members to step away from the stress and hustle of the pandemic to catch their breath and find a little mental recovery. Stocked with water, healthy treats and more, the spaces provide a respite to the people who are truly on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. We were also able to offer well-being services to our team members, such as access to counselors, massages, yoga and other mindfulness opportunities.
In these ways and others, the pandemic has helped us all rethink the definition of philanthropy, and I think it will stay with us as we address not just major crises, but also the small, daily challenges all around us. Imagine if all of the people who found ways to give what they could during the pandemic continue to think of themselves as philanthropists. Imagine if all of those people who donated their time, talent and dollars to address this crisis continue to see that they can play a role in addressing other community challenges. Imagine if we all accept the truth that we are capable of making a difference.
Gratefully, we don’t have to imagine this scenario. We have seen it play out over the last 12 months, and we are all better for it. So, I say thanks to all of you, whether you gave from your bank account or showed up with water bottles or simple acts of compassion, and whether you have given repeatedly or for the first time. Thank you for your gifts, and for reminding us all, once again, of the power of philanthropy.