Pivoting Together: Nonprofits Share the Eye-Opening Impact of COVID-19

Emily H. Benham, FAHP, CFRE | CEO, NLC News

At the beginning of 2020, I encouraged nonprofit leaders to embrace four traits I believed we would all need to be successful this year. One of those was what I called “mastering the pivot” — being adaptive and responsive to the changing needs of donors and our community. Never could I have imagined just how much we would need to pivot this year. The Nonprofit Leadership Center recently issued a survey asking nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to share how the COVID-19 crisis has initially impacted their organizations and communities, as well as the most critical ways funders and donors can help fill gaps. Nearly 100 nonprofit leaders serving Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties responded.

Despite immense pressures and financial fragility, I’m deeply struck by the sincere optimism and relentless commitment of our local nonprofit sector. As I share the topline results with you today — reflections which will be the first of many as we engage nonprofit leaders throughout this crisis — it’s clear that we’re pivoting together.

KEY FINDINGS

The individuals and families that Tampa Bay nonprofits serve have six immediate concerns.

We asked nonprofit leaders to share the top three concerns or needs they’re hearing from the individuals, families and communities they serve. Tampa Bay residents have six major concerns at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis — many of which they rely on for local nonprofits to help navigate or provide.

1. Job loss and financial insecurity

Individuals and families are concerned about providing for themselves and their families because of layoffs, job uncertainty and reduced income. They’re also wondering if and how they will recover.

“Our clients are voicing concerns over jobs, money and household income because many have been laid off or told their employer is closed.”

2. Access to basic necessities to survive

Populations that were already struggling prior to the virus outbreak are more challenged than ever to access basic needs, such as food, shelter, diapers and other essentials. They fear running out of food and supplies.

“Prior to COVID-19, our families struggled with inadequate housing, homelessness, low or no wages, mental health and other adverse factors. As a result of the coronavirus, we will see an increased need for basic items such as food, assistance with housing and technology for online learning.”

3. Mental health

Fears around job loss, finances and accessing basic needs have created social and emotional strife for many people our nonprofits serve. People are anxious about the uncertainty of the future and how long this current state will last.”

“Increased social isolation in a population that’s already marginalized is leading to worse depression, increased risk of suicide and relapses in addiction.”

“People want to know how long this situation will last, what to do if/when their money runs out and how they can remain connected to family and friends.”

4. Educating and caring for children

With schools closed and an influx of parents working at home, community members are concerned about their ability to facilitate online learning for their children, gaining access to technology for e-learning and childcare while working.

“People are worried about the lack of access to digital technology for students to maximize learning online. There’s a need for technology to connect to e-learning and how to use it.”

5. Medical care and contracting the virus

Throughout the community, many people are worried about contracting the virus, especially those who have immune-compromised children or family members. Additionally, many vulnerable populations are worried about delays in medical care and losing insurance.

“There is a fear of being diagnosed and what happens if the virus spreads to an entire facility or family … parents working in essential jobs are concerned about exposure to their family.”

6. Navigating COVID-19 communications

With an explosion of information that changes by the day, individuals and families are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of communications and what they should know.

“Our constituents are concerned about the inability to understand the tremendous amount of information they are receiving from schools and social service providers.”

Every nonprofit has been affected by the coronavirus.

We asked nonprofit leaders to tell us what immediate impact their organization has experienced or expects to experience during the next three months as a result of COVID-19. Every respondent said the virus has negatively impacted their organization. Of note…

  • 92% have had or expect to have a negative financial outlook or budget impact.
  • 83% have canceled or reduced programming/services for their constituents and communities or plan to do so.
  • 81% are changing working arrangements for staff/volunteers (e.g., team working remotely).
  • 72% have canceled or will cancel fundraising events.
  • 49% have seen or expect to see increased staff and volunteer absences.
  • 44% have seen or expect to experience an increased demand for services from clients.
  • 36% have had or expect a disruption in mission-critical third-party supplies/services.
  • 33% have made or expect to make staff reductions/cuts.

Every nonprofit has made changes to operations or service delivery.

We asked nonprofit leaders how, if at all, they have changed the way their nonprofit organization is operating or delivering services. They’ve adjusted their plans in three primary ways.

1. Staff are working and serving clients remotely.

“Our physical building is closed, so we have moved all our work to virtual, which is a massive shift.”

“All program services, including academic, case management, counseling and therapy, are being delivered remotely through online platforms.”

2. Organizations have reduced hours and/or services.

“We reduced the hours of the center we operate and postponed 12 community events as well as eight training workshops/programs.”

3. Nonprofits are offering more virtual programming.

“We’ve had to ramp up us the process of digitizing all our information. We are exploring the purchase of software as a service system to allow us to move in this direction.”

Postponed fundraisers and a changing fundraising environment have nonprofit leaders concerned about the future.

We asked nonprofit leaders about the immediate financial risks, if any, their organization is currently facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There are five areas they are most concerned about, not just to survive, but to thrive after this crisis.

1. Organizational sustainability

Nonprofit leaders are concerned about having the funds to maintain operations and financially survive this crisis. Many say they don’t have adequate reserves for more than a few months, while others fear having to close their doors due to potential loss of revenue. Additionally, as funds decrease, demands for services have increased, putting nonprofit leaders in a very fragile and precarious situation.

“Loss of revenue from cancelled fundraisers and donor support would be devastating and would likely lead to the dissolution of our organization.”

“We have reserves for only a little over a month to carry us if our funders stop paying, but the demand for services will increase.”

2. Paying employees

Nonprofit leaders are overwhelmingly committed to and concerned about caring for and compensating their employees during this challenging time. Many anticipate layoffs and a disruption in payroll.

“Trying to pay our staff with no revenue is very difficult and can only be done for a short time.”

3. Inability to service clients/community

With staff reductions, the inability to gather in groups and canceled fundraisers, nonprofit leaders are concerned about their ability to maintain support for their constituents as needs continue to grow.

“Closure of facilities has prevented the delivery of certain services. There is concern that this problem will exacerbate as the crisis continues.”

4. Delivering services in new and creative ways

The coronavirus crisis has prompted nonprofits to immediately create new and innovative ways to deliver services and operate as staff teams. The majority are implementing virtual opportunities that require unplanned investments to meet increasing technological demands.

“We are finding and creating new methods to reach people in need. Deploying new [mobile resources and a delivery model] require the acquisition of additional resources. We need increased funding for this level of effort.”

“We have incurred additional technology expenses to retrofit employees to work from home.”

5. Fear that funders will divert resources to other causes

Nonprofit leaders, especially those whose organizations provide education, arts and other services not considered basic survival needs (e.g., food and housing) fear funders may redeploy resources they depend on to meet other immediate gaps. They hope funders will keep a wide-angle view of the entire sector to ensure all organizations can continue operating after this crisis is behind us.

“The immediate risk is that funders redirect funds away from our organization to basic needs like food, housing and medical supplies. Our operating budget is only partially funded for the year. We have written grants assuming the balance. If the funding rate is significantly below this target, we will be forced to cancel programming.”

Nonprofit leaders would use additional funding to pay staff, continue critical services and fund new technology to deliver virtual programming/operations.

When asked how they would use additional funding to support any area of their mission, nonprofit leaders are focused on caring for people.

“I’d use the additional funding to meet the needs of our payroll.”

Additional funding would be helpful to be able to continue services.”

“We could use additional funding to upgrade to better accommodate online programming and virtual learning.”

Nonprofit leaders need new information and training to support them through this uncertain time.

We asked nonprofit leaders what resources, if any, they and their organization need assistance with now. Three areas rose to the top.

  • 90% want to learn about alternate fundraising strategies to maintain revenue.
  • 55% want help with maintaining morale during uncertain times.
  • 46% are interested in better understanding how to fundraise on Facebook and other digital platforms.

Pivoting with You: NLC’s Response and Commitment to Local Nonprofits

While the findings from this survey shine a light on the urgent needs of our community and the fragility of our sector, nonprofit leaders remain hopeful and resilient. I continue to be struck by this remark from one of our survey respondents:

As we continue our work to develop and connect nonprofit leaders to strengthen organizations and our community, here’s how NLC is responding so we can all pivot together.

  • Creating new content and virtual learning opportunities to respond to real-time needs — We’re hosting weekly FREE webinars with leading experts, such as working remotely in uncertain times and helping nonprofits take steps to be sustainable amid crisis. We’re also posting expert tips and content on our NLC Blog daily.
  • Connecting and supporting nonprofit leaders — We’re working with nonprofit CEOs and other leaders to host virtual, small-group gatherings that bring leaders from across our sector together to discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions and share new ideas and answers. Caring for our caregivers has never been more important, and our nonprofit leaders need additional care as they serve on the frontlines.
  • Serving as a conduit and advocate with funders — On behalf of our entire nonprofit sector, NLC is working with funders to advocate for your needs. Not only are we gathering and sharing the eye-opening realities of what nonprofits are experiencing, we’re collaborating with them as they seek the best path forward to support organizations.
  • Maintaining a virtual COVID-19 resource center for nonprofits to keep the overwhelming amount of information in one place

As always, Team NLC is here for our nonprofit community. If there is anything we can do to support you and your nonprofit organization, including one-on-one support, coaching or counsel, please contact us at info@nlctb.org.


About this Survey

NLC fielded an online Google survey that was open to nonprofit executives in the Tampa Bay region during March 19-24, 2020. Ninety-eight nonprofit leaders responded, including 92 from the five counties NLC serves (Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk). The majority focus on Hillsborough and Pinellas. Nearly 80% of respondents were nonprofit CEOs or executive directors, while the remaining 20% were senior-level leaders (e.g., vice presidents). The majority of respondents represent human service organizations, followed by education, health care and then arts/culture nonprofits.