As coronavirus spreads across the U.S., some nonprofits are being forced to make difficult decisions as demand for services increase and revenue from contributions plummet.
The unique combination of an economic downfall along with restrictions and social distancing protocols the country is experiencing to slow the spread of COVID-19 is creating a snowball effect, devastating nonprofits according to National Council of Nonprofits Spokesperson Rick Cohen.
“There are nonprofits that have a particular big fundraising event that they hold each year… and having to cancel those,” Cohen said. “And that means the loss of tens of thousands of dollars, which means laying off staff, it means cutting back on programs that help people in their communities. And for some, it might mean closing their doors.”
In her 18 years running Furkids Animal Rescue, Samantha Shelton said managing the unknown of the pandemic is the hardest thing she has had to do. Just this week she laid off five employees.
“We’re having to step back and really think about what can we afford,” Shelton said. “It’s so hard for us to manage the unknown and we don’t know how long this will last.”
Approximately half of all nonprofits have less than three months’ worth of operating cash in hand according to Cohen, making nonprofits especially vulnerable during a crisis.
Every year, Furkids hosts their birthday fundraiser in March which brings in a large chunk of the organization’s revenue. Historically the event raised over $150,000 and was expected to reach $200,000 this year according to Shelton.
The event was unfortunately canceled to keep everyone safe, but the organization was still able to hold a virtual auction which raised $40,000.
“This is important revenue that sets us up for the spring and summer which is when we have the greatest demand on our services,” she said. “We need all the revenue that we can going into those months so that we can confidently save these lives. So it's scary to have that hundred plus thousand dollar loss.”
The Atlanta Cancer Care Foundation has also had to cancel and postpone fundraising events in the past few weeks due to the coronavirus. Mitzy Sharp Futro, executive director of the foundation.
Mitzy Sharp Futro, Executive Director of ACCF, said the foundation is fortunate to have a reserve that will allow their organization to continue helping relieve financial strain on families of adult cancer patients, but they are increasingly hearing from patients who need their assistance now more than ever.
“I had a patient actually earlier this week that said, ‘I work with kids, but with COVID-19, my doctors told me that I can't go to work anymore with those kids. I don't know when I'll be able to return,’” Sharp Futro said.
ACCF is brainstorming new ideas to generate money in case their fall fundraisers are also affected, but as of now, open communication with their frequent donors has been successful and past donors have already reached out asking how they can help.
“There's a lot of uncertainty so we have not made any specific extra appeals… because first and foremost, we want them to worry about their health, their stability, and we don't want to jeopardize any of that for anybody who may want to support us,” said Sharp Futro.
On March 27, President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus package designed to relieve strain on individuals and businesses caused by coronavirus. Cohen says there are a number of provisions included in the bill designed to help nonprofits.
Perhaps the most notable is the universal, or non-itemized, charitable deduction. This will allow individuals to get a tax deduction on their taxes for donations to charity.
Right now the donation is capped at $300 but Cohen and other advocates are pushing to have that limit raised.
The bill also allows nonprofits to take advantage of a number of small business loans as well as other loan programs to help keep their doors open.
“These are huge victories for the nonprofit community,” Cohen said. “We know that nonprofits are going to need more and we're going to push forward in phase four, but what's in this bill really can be a lifeline for so many nonprofits."
For those looking for a way to help, consider donating to your local nonprofit of choice.
“Donate local is really the message right now because our communities really need these nonprofits doing the variety of work that they do every day,” Cohen said.
And for nonprofits looking to receive some extra help, Cohen recommends being honest with supporters about the organization’s needs.
“People understandably are kind of worried about their own income right now, but if you don't ask, you're not going to receive,” Cohen said.