So What If Refugees Aren't a Grantmaking Priority? Look How This Funder Stepped Up

Any foundation that cares about human suffering should be able to pivot away from established grantmaking priorities to address occasional emergencies in the world. We're not saying that funders should be ambulance chasers, skipping from crisis to crisis, but rather that they should leave enough slack in the system to periodically chip in for emergency efforts to save large numbers of people from death or intense misery. 

Many foundations believe the same thing, and have made special contributions for emergencies like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, the 2004 tsunami, and most recently, the Ebola epidemic.  

In recent years, though, an unprecedented global refugee crisis, especially the plight of millions of displaced Syrians, hasn't incited much action by funders stepping up in a flexible way. 

Related: Funders Have Dropped the Ball in a Big Way on Syria. Is That Starting to Change?

We've been hoping that this will change, and now comes a promising sign.

The philanthropic arm of the global financial services firm JP Morgan Chase & Company does not have a history of supporting global humanitarian relief efforts. Rather, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation tends to concentrate its efforts on workforce readiness as well as financial inclusion and skills building.

But while refugee crisis funding isn’t really on this outfit’s grantmaking priority list, that hasn’t stopped the foundation—with a little help from its employees—from pledging up to $2 million in response to a refugee crisis that has grown notably more urgent in the past few months.  

Related: More Bad News for Syrian Refugees, With Many Funders Still MIA

The JP Morgan Chase Foundation has already given out the first $1 million of its $2 million promise. That money was divvied up between Save the Children, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, and International Medical Corps in support of their collective work providing lifesaving resources such as food, water, and medical support to refugees arriving in European and Middle Eastern countries such as Italy, Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. More specifically, the foundation is supporting the following work:

  • The scaling of Save the Children’s services in Europe, Syria and the Middle East. This work will focus on providing welcoming spaces for children, along with hygiene, shelter, and child care supplies for refugee families. 
  • Oxfam’s water and sanitation efforts in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and its ongoing work helping refugees arriving in Italy, which includes the provision of basic necessities as well as long-term psychological and legal support.
  • International Rescue Committee’s work providing clean water, clothing, and legal rights information to refugees arriving in Greece.
  • The scaling of International Medical Corps’ medical and health care services for those arriving in Greece, Turkey, Hungary and surrounding regions. 

The JP Morgan Chase Foundation is also launching an employee giving campaign that will match employee donations dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. So whether or not the foundation meets the other half of its $2 million promise is up to the company’s employees.

The global refugee crisis is gaining increased traction in the media. After all, it’s difficult for anyone to ignore the heart wrenching and shocking images of drowned children washing up on the shores of Turkey in a failed attempt to reach European countries such as Greece.

The global refugee crisis, particularly as it relates to Syria, is an issue we'll keep tracking closely at IP. With the exception of funders already dialed in to the issue—like the UPS, Hilton, and Western Union foundations— the lack of widespread response from U.S funders and major donors has been deeply disappointing. And even though the European Union, U.S., and Kuwait pledged over $2 billion in refugee crisis aid this past summer, the U.N. is still facing a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. Which makes JP Morgan Chase’s surprising jump into this space that much more important.