With recent headlines featuring the West Coast wildfires, Hurricane Laura, the Beirut explosion and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere are looking to come together and give back to help their communities and the world as a whole. This means that companies have an opportunity to get involved and boost corporate social responsibility goals by offering workplace giving campaigns or launching special fundraisers to respond to an urgent need. These programs are most effective when they act in collaboration with charity partners who are responding in real-time.

One of our Charity Alliance partners, Direct Relief, specializes in connecting with the private sector to deliver humanitarian aid. Their strong history of getting the right resources to the right people at the right time offers powerful lessons on the impact of partnerships – and how, together, we truly can make a difference in the world.

Working in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, Direct Relief is a leading humanitarian organization supporting people struggling in the wake of disaster and entrenched in poverty. Whether a community needs vaccines and access to maternal health resources, or wound care and surgical equipment, Direct Relief is there with the supplies to protect and restore health for all.

Their chief priority during the pandemic is getting health care workers the resources they need to protect themselves, their patients and their communities. They’ve become one of the largest providers of protective supplies during COVID-19 – delivering over 13 million N95 and surgical masks, 5 million gloves, and hundreds of thousands of protective suits since March.

Part of their success is due to strategic partnerships, like their work with TIAA. One of Global Impact’s  partners, TIAA was interested in supporting New York City hospitals with supplies at the outset of COVID-19. Though difficult to find, they were able to successfully provide these items through Direct Relief – with the added bonus of strengthening the charity’s pandemic response, as well.

We connected with Heather Bennett, Vice President of Partnerships and Philanthropy at Direct Relief, to learn more about their partnership with TIAA and its impact.

Q: Can you tell us about this partnership?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, TIAA and their employees wanted to address the needs of their community. They raised a generous sum of money to supply healthcare workers in New York City with protective equipment, but needed a partner who had access to these limited and in-demand supplies. Direct Relief is an established partner in this space and we were already leading globally in the effort to procure preventative supplies for the healthcare community. So our two organizations came together to help New York City respond safely during this crisis. We delivered 13,000 N95 masks, plus isolation gowns, hand sanitizer and ICU medications with the support of TIAA employees, at a time when they were needed most.

Q: Was this an example of a typical partnership?
Direct Relief’s work is possible through the generous in-kind support of the private sector. We regularly team up with partners who can directly donate vaccines, medicines and treatments, medical supplies, etc. and distribute these contributions around the world. Last year alone we distributed over $1 billion in supplies to resource-poor communities. So our partnership with TIAA was quite different because we had to procure the supplies on behalf of our partner, instead of receiving them as a direct contribution to then be distributed. As a humanitarian aid organization, we are built to be flexible and adaptive to the needs of the crisis at hand – partnerships outside the norm are welcome to us.

A view of a Direct Relief warehouse.

Q: What was something new you learned or gained from this partnership?
We don’t normally work with U.S. hospitals – instead we typically focus on clinics in resource-poor healthcare settings. This of course changed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we were still confirming where the needs were greatest when TIAA approached us. Through their extensive network and research, they were able to help us prioritize which hospitals needed supplies the most in this unique environment. This partnership helped inform our use of future resources and establish connections for us across the city.

Q: How does employee engagement play a role in the work of your organization?
There’s been a real increase in employees wanting to get involved in emergency response across the private sector. Employees can give back when they contribute to their workplace giving campaigns and special fundraisers, like those that supported the TIAA-Direct Relief partnership this spring. One critical element of these programs is the employee matching feature, which really leverages a donor’s dollar. By working together, companies and their employees can make a huge collective impact.

Here at Direct Relief, we really want to customize those engagement opportunity and with the help of Global Impact, we can build out something that’s centered around employee interests (learn more).

A man carries a box of N95 masks beside a white Direct Relief truck.

Q: What are the anticipated domestic needs for this fall?
COVID-19 underlies everything we do today, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So whether we’re responding to the wildfires in California or assisting in hurricane response, we’ll also be addressing coronavirus-specific needs. We’ve never had to think about things like masks during hurricane response, but here we are. Our work can shift quite rapidly in that way. And COVID-19 is affecting supply stocks for protective equipment like latex gloves, so we’re really going to need the support of partners to ensure these needs are met during what’s going to be a tough fall.

Q: What are the anticipated international needs?
The COVID-19 response in developing countries is still a top priority for us. Direct Relief is a member of a coalition working to procure and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) for rural communities throughout the African continent. Our global leadership in the COVID-19 response can be seen in this map of Direct Relief country-level support.

A group of people packing a bag of supplies.

Q: What impact can these partnerships have long-term?
The great thing about partnering with Direct Relief is that we can build on our previous work together. It’s not just about one-off engagements, we can work with your company to build out something that’s effective and strategic while engaging employees.

Q: What’s something you’re working on that the general public may not know about?
We’re very well known for our disaster response, which is a critical component of our work, but that’s not all we do – we have deep ties to local initiatives and partners in an ongoing effort to improve access to health care around the world. In fact, we’re so effective at responding quickly because we have these on-the-ground relationships that allow us to go where the need is. So while we’re thinking about those immediate needs in the face of a crisis, we’re also thinking about the big picture and long-term need for access to healthcare.

A sincere thank you to Heather for her time and sharing all of the great work Direct Relief is doing here at home and around the world. Reach out to Global Impact if your company is interested in partnering with Direct Relief for your upcoming workplace giving campaign or next emergency response fundraiser. Together, we can customize the right philanthropic strategy for your company and employees.