How is the US nonprofit sector facing COVID-19?
With over a million cases of COVID-19 across the globe, challenges are arising from the pandemic on a local, national, and global scale. The onset of the U.S. economic recession is spiking unemployment rates and in the past two weeks 10 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. Similar to businesses feeling the pressures of the recession, nonprofits across the country are financially unstable and yet some are experiencing an increased demand for their direct services. The nonprofit industry is a $200 billion sector, serving nearly 1 in 5 Americans already. Most nonprofits run on limited budgets and rely on annual funding from foundations, corporations, and the government to administer specific programs. The financial implications and uncertainty of how long physical distancing orders will continue are causing many organizations to reduce programming, lay off or furlough staff members, and create plans for the dissolution of their nonprofit.
Nonprofits are essential at this time, as they try to continue to provide shelter, physical and mental health services, daily meals, and much more to people effected by COVID-19 while meeting physical distancing and sanitation standards. As in person fundraising events are cancelled and individual small donors’ pocketbooks become tighter and decrease donations, nonprofits are forced to prove their resilience and innovate to continue serving populations.
In many states large funds are being set up to support and coordinate efforts between organizations. In Connecticut, the Connecticut COVID-19 Charity Connection or 4-CT was launched to collaborate efforts between 14 community nonprofits and foundations in the state and pool all their resources together to increase their capacities. 4-CT gives donors certainty that their donations will go directly to provide immediate relief to those impacted by COVID-19 such as food banks, health services, and childcare for first responders. Other organizations have quickly adapted to provide services virtually, providing free online tours of museums, concerts, workout classes, and educational curriculums for kids. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently announced their COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide to accessing mental health counseling services that are now being conducted remotely by many nonprofits.
There is also more hope as many companies step up to make donations to large nonprofits. Additionally, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) stimulus bill includes a $350 billion Small Business Administration (SBA) loan program for which 501c3 nonprofits with less than 500 employees are eligible to apply beginning on April 3rd. These funds specifically must go towards retaining workers, making mortgage, lease, or utility payments over the next eight weeks. Lastly, check out this list of Funds for Coronavirus Relief put together by Candid in order to increase the accessibility of funding for all nonprofits in the wake of the health crisis.
Facing the challenges of COVID-19 requires everyone to adapt, innovate, and work collaboratively. In order to do this, priorities and standards must shift.
To foundations: Many nonprofits that receive annual grants for specific projects and are required to report back successful metrics will no longer be able to complete the services they needed to in order to complete studies. Removing requirements for what grants need to be used for, and instead allow organizations the authority to use the money in a capacity to keep the organization financially stable will aid the nonprofit sector in the long-term.
To nonprofits: Work collaboratively with regional organizations to share resources to make the most impact. It is also important to have a plan in place in case the worst occurs. Know where to send those you serve in order to access other services and resources, if your organization is no longer able to provide them.
To individuals: If you have the capacity to donate, please do, or check out opportunities to volunteer virtually. Lastly, take the time to educate yourself on the best techniques to handling COVID-19 by completing “COVID-19: How to be Safe and Resilient” – a digital curriculum with lessons ranging from “How to Navigate Public Spaces” to “How to Take Care of Your Mental Health”.