We take pride in the number and the breadth of nonprofits in and around our community. Some are smaller with very specific missions and others more broad-based.
There are nonprofits benefitting one person, some benefit those most marginalized, some address health issues, housing and employment security, our cultural institutions, mental health issues, our environment, and animal welfare and so much more. Almost all are reporting declines in revenue and challenges to providing services.
As we work through this pandemic and try to do so as safely as possible, our focus may have been on personal health and also on economic survival. There has been less focus on the survival of the nonprofits, let alone their ability to thrive. Revenues have shrunken and expenses have gone the other way.
Cultural institutions were closed for months and now, operating at limited capacity are experiencing attendance ranging from about 38% to 60% of their attendance levels of last year. Programs are virtual as are the efforts to raise funds and replace the fundraising events that would have been “sold out” in other years.
While this is happening, their expenses are higher so that they can carefully comply with necessary health standards. I know of none of our cultural institutions that are not chewing into their reserves and endowments to help carry them through this difficult time. Of course, that will require structural challenges for them as they go forward.
COVID-19 and addressing health issues presents particular challenges for important nonprofits providing essential community “human services.”
Our free health clinic and food pantries experience greater demand. An organization like A Woman’s Place, experiences much greater demand for the services it provides to victims of assault. Yet, at the same time that expenses increase, its store In Full Swing, remained closed for months and its primary community fundraising event needed to be canceled.
The Coalition to Support and Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that sponsors our code blue shelters during the winter months faces a daunting challenge. With homelessness on the rise, they need to identify space that is larger than previously used so that the homeless can have shelter in a safe, socially distanced manner. The churches that previously hosted the program may not physically have the space needed. Facing greater demand, identifying new appropriate space, and then staffing and outfitting that space safely on a weather-defined schedule that Mother Nature will determine is exceptionally challenging.
Without any exceptions known to me, those nonprofits and so many others have been systematic in their planning to survive these times and doing it in ways that are respectful of the need to navigate the health crisis.
They are doing it in ways that make fiduciary sense. In gathering details from a host of organizations and the challenges they face, all expressed optimism and commitment.
Kyle McCoy, executive director of the Mercer Museum and Fonthill, concluded, “Although things are looking bleak right now, we are going to do what we need to do in order to keep our staff employed and focused on the future of BCHS and our community. This is just a bump in the road and we plan to come out on the other side more flexible, creative, and resilient.”
We are learning that no matter how important an organization’s mission might be, things are harder and more expensive in a world with COVID-19 still undefeated. Nevertheless, they struggle to fulfill their missions. They cannot do it alone and will require a renewed commitment from those of us in this great community.
It is this extraordinary community that was central to building so many valued and treasured nonprofits. They help set us apart as a community. Some may not survive and some will be permanently handicapped. I am reminded of the vintage Bee Gees’ song “Staying Alive.”
Conditions may not return to their former state any time soon but to do so, they require our attention, our engagement, and our financial commitment.