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These past few months have taken a serious toll on every American, especially those who recently lost their jobs and are struggling to find work, keep food on the table for their families and do everything possible to avoid becoming sick themselves.
The coronavirus has attached its tentacles to almost every aspect of our lives and has placed enormous strain on the 1.5 million local, regional and national nonprofits who are struggling to provide these much-needed services against a backdrop of significant losses in individual, corporate and foundation funding.
A recent survey of some 880 nonprofits by the Charities Aid Foundation of America found almost 95 percent have been negatively affected by the spread of the virus; 15 percent have been forced to suspend their operations, another 60 percent have suspended or eliminated their regular programs and services and more than 70 percent have witnessed a significant reduction in the total number of contributions they normally receive, according to the survey.
One Alabama nonprofit leader put it best recently when she said, “I find the ironic thing is the nonprofit sector has been decimated but yet people are relying on them to be part of the answer.”
I could not have said it better.
As a nonprofit professional who has seen the ebb and flow of fundraising efforts during other life-changing events, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this kind of stranglehold on nonprofits. But I’m also not convinced it will last forever. In recent years other disasters, including the horrific 9/11 attacks and the devastation brought about by hurricanes Katrina and Henry, to name a few, redirected fundraising for many local and national nonprofits struggling to provide services not related to these tragedies.
Many nonprofits survived and learned greatly from above challenges. We must now apply these same lessons to our work today as we help Americans struggling to survive the pandemic throughout every community in our nation.
First, we need to collectively acknowledge that it is most important for Americans to support the immediate needs of the people and communities most affected by the pandemic and other catastrophes. In fact, many nonprofits redirected a portion of their fundraising to support recovery efforts. While this may have some impact on our own programs and service delivery, we know it is the right thing to do — for all Americans.
Second, we reassured our funders and supporters that, despite the impact such events would have on our own efforts, we could and would continue to provide crucial services to the individuals and families who most needed us. We remained prudent stewards of the funding we received from our benefactors and they saw firsthand how right they were to continue in their support.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we revisited our mission and our work to see how such events could help us to expand services. We looked at the mental health impact had on Americans — especially children and young people from every part of the nation traumatized by the 9/11 attacks and we did so without straying from our own work.
We did this by studying the importance of rapid-rehousing for millions of people who lost their homes following the destruction left in the wake of hurricanes, as well as the loss of schools, community-based programs and other critical services. As such, we developed similar programs and services in our communities with the knowledge such disasters might decimate us one day. Make no mistake: The coronavirus will affect every aspect of our work going forward.
The future may well look bleak and unpromising for our nations’ nonprofits. But past lessons serve as a reminder that these organizations won’t need a vaccine to keep their mission strong and relevant, especially to those who will continue to rely on America’s nonprofits in the days, months and years ahead.
Andrew Martin is a New York City-based nonprofit communications and development strategist.