Philanthropy pivots to COVID- and social justice-related causes
Fitting with the unprecedented year that was 2020, philanthropic donations in Virginia pivoted during the past year, with an overwhelming focus placed on COVID-19 relief and social justice support.
“Like the disease, the economic disease that has hit our Main Street knows no bounds,” Charlottesville-based venture capitalist Pete Snyder told Virginia Business in June 2020. (Snyder announced this January that he is seeking the 2021 GOP nomination for governor.) In spring 2020 he and his wife, Burson, founded the Virginia 30 Day Fund, which works to send forgivable $3,000 “lifelines” to small businesses across the state to fill the gap in cash flow that businesses were experiencing while waiting for federal Paycheck Protection Program funds. As of January, The Virginia 30 Day fund had raised more than $4 million and provided funding to about 1,000 Virginia small businesses.
Foundations and large corporations funded efforts to help essential workers and nonprofit organizations dealing with the pandemic’s economic fallout. Large corporate donations included a $20 million gift from McLean-based food manufacturing giant Mars Inc. for deploying critical supplies in developing countries and supporting food programs. Smithfield Foods Inc. donated $30 million worth of food to Feeding America. Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc. one of the world’s largest tobacco product manufacturers, donated approximately $7 million among Feeding America, the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond and the American Red Cross, while Richmond-based energy utility Dominion Energy Inc. donated $1 million to organizations including the American Red Cross.
And then, nationwide racial justice protests sparked by the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd initiated a new wave of giving to social justice initiatives. Altria and Dominion each committed $5 million in donations to funding nonprofits fighting racial injustice, as well as helping minority-owned and small businesses impacted by protests. Goochland County-based CarMax also announced plans to donate $1 million to the efforts in 2020.
Virginia HBCUs saw large donations following the racial upheaval. In December 2020, Norfolk State University received its largest-ever donation — a $40 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos. The gift will support scholarships as well as workforce and economic development activities.
Other large gifts during the past year have gone to state universities and nonprofit organizations, including a $10 million gift to Virginia Tech announced in January from Mehul Sanghani, CEO of Reston-based Octo Consulting Group, and his wife, Hema, to support the university’s Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, as well as a food access program, Virginia Tech Athletics and the Global Business and Analytics Complex. A $10 million giving initiative from Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare announced in January will be split among grants to local universities as well as public health and health equity improvement initiatives.
John L. Nau III, president and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors LP, the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributor in the country, in May 2020 made a $27.5 million donation to the University of Virginia’s new Democracy Initiative at the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. And a $24 million gift announced in December 2020 to Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health from the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation will go toward clinical research and scholarships.
- Donations by companies and corporate foundations
- The 50 largest Virginia charities
- Donations by independent foundations and groups
- Donations by individuals and family foundations