Anticipating the economic fallout for families as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stand Together partnered with the Family Independence Initiative (FII) to launch the #GiveTogetherNow campaign. #GiveTogetherNow has mobilized hundreds of nonprofits and thousands of individual donors to get $500 cash payments where they were needed most: in the hands of nearly 200,000 families affected by the crisis.
A threat to lives and livelihoods
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached our nation’s communities, it quickly became clear that it threatened more than public health. As cities shut down, businesses closed, and society was upended by physical distancing and travel restrictions, the economic shock was fierce. Unemployment shot up higher in three months than it did during the entirety of the Great Recession.
Suddenly, lives and livelihoods were in jeopardy as millions of families faced mounting bills and expenses without a safety net. To help these families, Stand Together and the Family Independence Initiative (FII) joined forces to launch #GiveTogetherNow, a national movement for community relief in the face of the crisis. It was founded on the simple idea that the best way to make a difference for families was to address their needs directly with $500 cash payments, no strings attached.
That simple idea is now an extraordinary success. #GiveTogetherNow raised $100 million in less than five months, providing financial lifelines to nearly 200,000 families nationwide. The scale of the campaign sets an innovative example for emergency relief, illustrating how creative thinking and strategic partnerships can get aid where it’s needed, when it’s needed. Fueled by the participation of thousands of individuals, it also showcases the power of unity in times of struggle.
Building momentum with technology and relationships
FII and Stand Together came to the table with a shared belief in personal agency: that people experiencing financial hardship often know best what they need most — whether its paying for rent, childcare, or food.
Once the campaign’s mission was determined, Stand Together and FII leaders knew that speed was essential; with many unable to work or let go from jobs, families couldn’t afford to wait. The organization leveraged its unique strengths to get the campaign running quickly.
FII has been investing in families through direct cash payments since 2001. Its work is focused on removing systemic barriers that prevent low-income individuals from reaching their full potential.
On average, FII households increase their incomes by more than 20 percent and their personal savings by ten times over a two-year period. The program’s decades of data and best practices provided proof of concept for #GiveTogetherNow’s premise: direct cash payments to families aren’t only possible — they’re essential.
FII also had software in its toolkit. To streamline its operations, it recently developed UpTogether, a platform that helps people experiencing poverty strengthen their social connections and access capital.
Through UpTogether, FII invests in the strength and initiative of participating families. UpTogether provided the ideal technical foundation for #GiveTogetherNow, enabling direct transfers to eligible families’ bank accounts to get them cash quickly.
As the #GiveTogetherNow website and technology launched, Stand Together utilized its connections with social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and cultural influencers to help the campaign gain momentum.
Catalysts, a growing community of more than 180 high-impact nonprofit partners supported by Stand Together Foundation, provided local expertise to identify families in need of aid. Together, they nominated and verified beneficiaries in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico.
By relying on these partners, #GiveTogetherNow is able to ensure that cash would reach families who were most affected by the pandemic, in every corner of the nation.
While its partners got the word out to families around the country, Stand Together’s in-house team got to work mobilizing donors. Providing a strong foundation for the effort, they secured more than 70 philanthropic, government, and corporate sponsors, including major philanthropic leaders like Google.org, the Schultz Family Foundation, Elizabeth R. Koch, and others. But real success hinged on individual participation.
On Instagram, former NFL linebacker and entrepreneur Dhani Jones hosted Stand Together LIVE, a series of conversations with all-star guests from all walks of life. The conversations focused on stories of individual resilience, personal transformation, and the power of community — offering optimism and inspiration during a challenging time.
The series also drove awareness for #GiveTogetherNow, raising funds from viewers and fans with every episode and spreading the movement further with guests such as DJ D-Nice, the chef Andrew Zimmern, the gymnast Shawn Johnson East, Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints, and many others.
The power of personal generosity
Inspired by the organic acts of kindness sprouting up across the country in response to the pandemic, Stand Together and FII wanted to offer two ways to participate in GTN: giving money or giving kindness.
Those who decided to give money knew that 100 percent of their donation would go directly to a family in need. And give, they did: less than 10 percent of the donors who have participated in #GiveTogetherNow are from foundations or institutions — more than 1,500 donations are from individuals from all over the country.
Those who chose to give kindness were presented with a creative opportunity: they could complete an act of kindness for friends, family, or a neighbor and share it on social media. In turn, each act of kindness was matched with a direct cash payment of $500 to the campaign.
Acts of kindness ranged from delivering groceries to singing to the elderly in nursing homes. More than 2,066 acts of kindness were completed, unlocking more than $1 million in additional funds.
The personal impact of an initiative like #GiveTogetherNow is best measured by personal results. For months, local nonprofit partners have shared the stories of those who benefited from the campaign.
From coast to coast, they represent nearly 200,000 families and individuals who were able to meet their immediate needs and experience renewed hope.
“I was one day from being homeless and literally eating through the grace of friends,” wrote Robert from Forth Worth. “This $500 dollar blessing allowed me to get a room for a month from someone renting a room, send $100 to help with my 8-year-old son, and buy food. It may not sound like much, but to me it was priceless and a blessing.”
In Chicago, Humu was let go from her non-union job in the public schools. While she waited on unemployment insurance to come through, support from #GiveTogetherNow enabled her to pay for food and her daughter’s school fees without incurring debt.
In one community in Atlanta, many parents were facing a choice between paying rent and feeding their children. With a referral from The Path Project, an organization devoted to helping children in mobile home communities succeed in school, they were able to do both because of #GiveTogetherNow.
In Chicago, Sije Richardson struggled when her paycheck was delayed. Luckily, a well-timed cash payment from #GiveTogetherNow got her through. “It was a great blessing and such an enormous relief, and it helped me see that there are truly wonderful people in this world,” said Sije.
Kristine, a mother of two and former foster child living In Los Angeles, lost her job as a nanny due to the pandemic. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart,” she wrote. “This is truly a blessing for my family. This is more than just diapers and wipes. This gave me hope.”
When the pandemic hit, a young woman and her aunt in Texas lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay rent. The payment from #GiveTogetherNow helped them stay afloat. “This was such a huge help. I’ll always remember it,” said Sierra.
#GiveTogetherNow provides a crucial lifeline to help many families get through this crisis. It’s also a powerful example of resilience built on trust — trusting in the generosity of strangers and trusting that people experiencing poverty know the best path forward.
By scaling FII’s technology platform and tapping into Stand Together’s community of change-makers and top business leaders, #GiveTogetherNow has succeeded in turning that trust into an extraordinary impact.
We can’t predict or control crises, but we can control the way we respond to neighbors in need.
Photo credit: Santi Nunez