The pandemic and its economic fallout have forced nonprofits and their funders to get creative this year.
As COVID-19 was officially designated as a pandemic in mid-March, nonprofits began taking stock and looking at ways to continue serving their clients and the many new clients they’d soon begin to see.
Demand for their services quickly increased as people lost employment and stability. At the same time, virtually all revenue streams that nonprofits relied on were impacted.
Fundraising became difficult as nonprofits had to shift those efforts online and as some donors lost income. Some found themselves serving the needs of people who were once donors. Organizations moved their major fundraising events online with mixed success, especially as the pandemic dragged on and video virtual fatigue set in.
Across the country, nonprofits saw government contracts slow to a trickle. Museums and arts organizations that usually can rely on ticket sales watched that revenue stream all but dry up as stay-at-home orders took effect.
The philanthropic community stepped up here and across the country. In Northeast Ohio, the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund has awarded more than $10 million this year and plans to continue its giving with biweekly grants through next fall.
Here are a few stories that capture some of the ways nonprofits have been impacted this year:
• Nonprofits look to make the most of virtual fundraisers: Many nonprofits rely on one or two major annual fundraising events. For some, a single event can make up the bulk of an organization’s fundraising budget. Plus, they’re a key way to raise awareness of the nonprofit and its cause. Nonprofits tried to get creative as they shifted their major events online.
• Funding cuts to Ohio organizations that support crime victims is happening during a “perfect storm” of crisis for nonprofits: Facing dramatic cuts in grants from a federal pool of money, nonprofits providing direct support for victims are cutting staff, rethinking physical space, streamlining services and searching for more financial support as COVID-19 continues to stretch philanthropic capacity.
• Nonprofit workforce development groups face influx of job seekers with varied backgrounds: Nonprofits that offer workforce development programming made rapid adjustment to train and support a growing number of job seekers with a broader range of backgrounds and experiences. Moving training opportunities online highlighted the digital divide and sent programs scrambling to find funds to build inventories of computers and hotspots to lend to job seekers. The loss of physical spaces for information sessions or career fairs has made connecting with some job seekers a bit more difficult, especially if they aren’t active on social media or other platforms that organizations have been using to share resources.
• Northeast Ohio nonprofits face challenges in engaging volunteers during pandemic: Many nonprofits rely heavily on their volunteers, especially in a time of great need, but COVID-19 safety protocols has made engaging them much more difficult this year. Many organizations are working with far fewer volunteers and ultimately trying to do more with less.
• Nonprofits with self-funded unemployment insurance face big bills: Some nonprofits self-funded their unemployment insurance rather than paying into the state system, an option they’ve had for decades that, in more typical times, saves them money. But the model is presented a huge financial burden for these nonprofits as they laid off or furloughed employees in the spring.
• Fundraising in pandemic challenges area nonprofits: Some nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic saw significant growth in support as donors shift their attention to high-demand areas and services. But the shift left other organizations — such as environmental or arts and culture nonprofits — with decreased donations and a more challenging fundraising pitch.
• Nonprofits work to meet giving goals even as shoppers stay home: The pandemic presented added challenges for nonprofits that rely, at least in part, on shopper foot traffic to help meet annual giving goals. For the Salvation Army, COVID-19 is increasing need while decreasing the number of traditional red kettles seen each holiday season at store entrances.