Josette Denis got an unusual kind of Covid relief last spring: $1,000 deposited directly into her Venmo account just as her family was about to fall off a cliff.
The family’s income froze in April after she and her partner, John Mack, an exterminator in New York City, were hospitalized with Covid. As she lay sick in bed, they fell behind on rent, car insurance, her electric bill. She was down to a gallon of milk and cold cuts in her refrigerator for her four young daughters still at home.
The money arrived with so little fanfare that she thought it was a scam. In fact, it was a just-in-time delivery from GiveDirectly.org, a nonprofit that sends mobile money straight to those in need. The gift arrived in time to pay the bills and stabilize the family until Mr. Mack could go back to work. “I dropped to my knees and prayed,” she says. “It gave us back that sense of control.”
Direct giving—by individual donors to struggling households, local restaurants, essential workers, complete strangers—has exploded during the pandemic. Crowdfunding at organizations like GoFundMe has surged. So has fundraising by giving circles: groups of friends and neighbors who pool money for specific causes.
But one of the biggest surprises in pandemic generosity is the increase in direct digital cash grants to families or households in need. Increasingly, donors are making that choice instead of giving food or clothing, or sending money to traditional nonprofits.