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Support nonprofits, support communities

By Cindy Colson

COVID 19 is testing our resilience as individuals, families and communities. The next several weeks will bring more challenge, and there will be much to rebuild. As unprecedented as this pandemic and its effects are, so too must be our resolve and response to heal, repair and ultimately strengthen our connection to each other and the fabric of our society.

This crisis already is bringing out the best in us.

The community response to date from all sectors is inspiring and making an immediate impact. Acts of sacrifice among health care professionals give us hope. The recently enacted federal coronavirus aid bill (the CARES act) will bring important relief and protections to millions of Americans, including thousands in our community, and provide a financial lifeline to many local businesses. The Small Business Administration enacted business assistance programs. Local funders, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, Suffolk Foundation and United Way South Hampton Roads have created emergency funds to address the emerging needs. The Obici Healthcare Foundation has created a COVID-19 Resources webpage.

Businesses and individuals in this region also are rallying. There are so many examples, and these individual and collective efforts must continue throughout this crisis and into recovery.

At the center of much of this relief work are our nonprofits. Nonprofits feed us, house us and keep us healthy. They support seniors, educate kids, protect our environment and our rights, and awaken our creativity and common humanity, especially during a crisis. Right now, cities and states are relying on nonprofit partners as a buffer against the worst impacts of the outbreak. And we all will continue to rely on the expertise and experience of these community-based institutions in the recovery effort that lies ahead.

Just as we meet basic needs and ensure urgent care, we must safeguard these treasured community missions that act as our social safety net and enrich our lives and livelihood. Our social impact organizations — area nonprofits large and small — are a critical part of the web that knits our communities together. Nonprofits are our country’s only institutions solely focused on making communities stronger. Success is measured in terms of shared benefits, not private profits. Nonprofits have specialized expertise that often includes a deep understanding of community assets and needs. Nonprofits have the ability to be nimble and innovative to achieve community goals. We need this kind of community-minded perspective.

Center for Nonprofit Excellence is circulating a Nonprofit Needs Survey to help funders and community partners understand, in real-time, the challenges of social impact organizations during this crisis. Preliminary findings from the survey show distressing trends in these early days:

  • More than half are experiencing a decrease in client usage of services/programs, with 62 percent experiencing a decrease in earned revenue.
  • Thirty-five percent are experiencing a drop in donations, and 47 percent anticipate a drop in the coming weeks.
  • Nearly half are experiencing challenges with staff and/or volunteers who have limited availability due to childcare constraints.
  • Fifty percent are experiencing destabilization of long-term financial stability.
  • While 94 percent have an operating reserve, 62 percent have three months or less.

Protecting and preserving this vital sector will require a phased approach and long-term thinking. This will require individual and collective action. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. Now we must be the light that shines glimmers of hope and stability as we get through the tunnel. Here is where we, as individuals, can start:

  • If financially able, maintain donations to the nonprofits you already support, even if the amount decreases.
  • Accelerate and/or increase your gifts this year to help stabilize nonprofit cash flow now.
  • If you are able to redirect your stimulus check into an investment in our community’s future, consider donating all or a portion of your stimulus check to area nonprofits.

Acting in great and good, and big and small ways, together each of us can be servant leaders for the social sector to ensure a healthy future for our region. Thank you for being the light.

Cindy Colson, is deputy director of strategic partnerships for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. This column included thoughts from the FrameWorks Institute.