Fidelity Charitable donors are expected to step up contributions to Ebola relief causes after their giving got off to a modest start so far this year, according to a spokesperson for the charity.

Donors, which can include advisory clients, made 271 grants totaling $875,000 for Ebola-related relief causes through donor-advised funds for the first three quarters of this year, says Fidelity Charitable spokeswoman Kimberly Judecki. The current Ebola outbreak began in March.

While those numbers may sound modest, the charity anticipates they will only increase as people increase charitable contributions in response to the rising number of Ebola cases worldwide. If not contained, the World Health Organization estimates that by the middle of next month there could be another 10,000 new cases of Ebola every week. The outbreak began in Guinea, before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone. One Ebola patient has died in the United States, while two nurses who cared for him are now suffering from the virus.

An increasingly popular philanthropic tool, donor-advised funds allow clients to give to charities for immediate tax benefits, but take the time they want to select the causes that ultimately will receive their support.

Fidelity Charitable has posted an online giving guide focused on Ebola relief efforts that establishes a framework to help donors think about how they want to give.

It also contains the names of 12 charities focused on different relief efforts, including charitable causes in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The charity notes that it does not make recommendations on any of the groups, but provides them for reference purposes only.

Some foundations around the country that operate donor-advised funds also are launching specialized efforts to focus on the Ebola crisis, and some of its unanticipated effects.

For example, The Dallas Foundation, which operates about 200 donor-advised funds comprising a total of $90 million in assets, recently launched a special purpose donor-advised fund designed to help counter the backlash caused by Ebola concerns in the Dallas neighborhood known as Vickery Meadows. The Vickery Meadow Assistance Fund will channel support to residents there, where the U.S.' first casualty, Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, came after arriving with the virus from Liberia.

The people who live in the largely low-income and immigrant Vickery Meadow community "already have substantial issues, but what has happened since the Ebola crisis is that some of the residents are being asked not to go to work," says Mary Jalonick, president of the Dallas Foundation. "It's just the fear of people not wanting to be around people who live in that neighborhood."

The fund, which has received $45,000 in donations in just its first week, is channeling that money to help keep programs that are vital to Vickery Meadow residents – such as after-school programs that parents and children rely upon – fully staffed and operational, Jalonick says.

Other foundations have asked technology provider Crown Philanthropic Solutions of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., to create customized Ebola relief giving platforms for their clients and advisors, says William Hewitt, Crown's executive vice president. "As more advisors deal with this, we'll probably see more and more [of these requests] because we are at the early stages of the outbreak," Hewitt says.

Fidelity Charitable has developed a specialization around the subject of philanthropic giving for disaster relief, Judecki says. Its Ebola guidance identifies three areas of giving for donors to focus on:

  • Providing supplies and awareness by working with local partners in health care, government and social services to deliver basic needs, such as medicines and protective equipment, as well as supporting public health communications to prevent Ebola’s spread.
  • Providing medical services and training, from preparing new health workers to staffing clinics.
  • Finding a cure by funding research for vaccine development.

"[T]he early phases of Ebola relief should focus on the short term – containing the epidemic and providing immediate aid," Fidelity Charitable's Ebola relief guidelines recommend. "Once the epidemic has been contained and countries begin to stabilize, the response will more fully focus on rebuilding the local economy and health care infrastructure, as well as creating emergency plans for future medical emergencies."
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