Gerstner Philanthropies COVID-19 Response

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Gerstner Philanthropies focuses on biomedical research, educational opportunities, and assistance for people who have suffered a temporary setback and could use a “helping hand” to restore their equilibrium.

Our Biomedical Research funding falls into two categories:

  • Supporting important genomic research that could lead to breakthroughs in clinical practice
  • Enabling talented young scientists to pursue a career in research

Our Education work supports students who have talent and determination but whose opportunity to excel is limited because of their economic circumstances.

Our Helping Hands program provides assistance for people experiencing an unforeseen emergency through one-time cash grants.

In addition, we make a small number of grants related to or outside of these areas of focus.


  • Racial inequities will grow if schools don’t open safely this fall. Here’s an action plan.
    July 28, 2020

    Lou Gerstner, retired chairman and CEO of IBM and founder of the Gerstner Family Foundation, recently published an Op-Ed in USA Today on the issue of reopening schools safely and effectively in the Fall. "Our national consciousness about racial inequity has been lifted to welcomed new heights in the past few months. The issue now is what exactly is going to be done to reduce inequity. Tearing down statues won’t contribute anything. Individuals committing millions of dollars to community action groups will help, as will increased commitment by business leaders to open up career ladders for people of color. However, despite all the good that might come from these welcomed changes, we are about to deliver a blow to the Black and Latino communities that will set back racial equity enormously. That blow is the failure to fully open K-12 schools, in particular those in large urban centers, in September."

  • The Long and the Short of Emergency Cash Grants
    July 21, 2020

    Government stay-at-home orders created widespread economic distress among millions of displaced workers. Almost as fast as the economic shutdown washed away their pay, however, donors across the country sprang into action. Many givers who had never before considered small emergency cash grants began to offer them. Small cash gifts to otherwise self-sufficient parties battered by a cruel twist of fate are one of the oldest forms of philanthropy. Emergency grantees are not long-term recipients whom a donor can get to understand over time. They require snap assessments of which cases are most worthy, and how best to aid them. As plenty of givers who have tried quick-cash distribution in the past can attest, faulty judgment in dispensing cash can encourage bad behavior, waste money, and even delay necessary adaptations by households. On the other hand, intelligent, compassionate action can prevent a temporary stumble from turning into deep trauma. Fortunately, there are donors who have been at this kind of work for years, including the Gerstner Family Foundation. “I think people often shy away from doing direct-cash assistance because in the foundation world it’s seen as non-strategic, not getting at a root cause,” says Kara Klein of the Gerstner Family Foundation. “But in my mind, it’s one of the most strategic things you can do—to help a family stay in their home and out of a tumble into economic instability.”

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Reflections on Helping Hands

Lou Gerstner shares the origin of and his vision for the emergency grants program, lessons learned over the past decade, and his belief in the critical importance of the work.

Watch the video