Amid all the other concerns accompanying the coronavirus pandemic are questions about the future of nonprofit organizations.
An essential part of the nation’s safety net, nonprofits are feeling the stress of too few resources and too many needs. As Pauline Fong, program director for the Vancouver-based MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, said: “We work with hundreds of nonprofits who are facing these typhoons, and the needs for our services have skyrocketed. So, for example, some of the nonprofits serving the houseless and the low-income, the demand for their help has doubled or tripled.”
Fong was speaking last week as part of The Columbian’s 2021 Economic Forecast. The session, typically part of a large breakfast meeting, was held remotely this year. Experts from different sectors of the economy did their best to predict the unpredictable as the nation’s economy deals with chaos caused by the pandemic and tries to set a course for a prosperous future.
One of the keys to that future is nonprofit organizations. Equally important, they are one of the keys to the present, filling in the cracks that people otherwise would fall through.
But just like every other facet of COVID life, nonprofits are facing uncertainty. As Fong wrote prior to the forecast: “Food banks report a 40 percent or more increase in clients. Researchers at Northwestern University found that food insecurity has more than doubled nationwide among households with children, from more than 5 million children in 2019 to more than 10 million children in 2020. Local nonprofits and faith-based groups are stepping up to serve this need by collecting and distributing food.”
For those in need, language, literacy and technology barriers often exist. And for organizations desiring to help, the economic downturn limits fundraising efforts.
During the 11 months of the pandemic, countless annual fundraising paths have been closed — banquets, auctions and community events. And many would-be donors have seen their ability to contribute hampered by economic concerns. According to a survey in June by the Charities Aid Foundation of America, the pandemic could cause up to one-third of nonprofits to close.
In addition to being unable to provide needed services, the plight of nonprofits also presents an additional drag on the economy. According to the New York Times, the sector employs roughly 12.5 million people in the U.S., and a Johns Hopkins University study estimated that 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost between February 2020 and May of that year — the early weeks of the pandemic.
While large charities or umbrella organizations are most prominent in the public mind, a majority of nonprofits are small, community groups that have little margin for coping with an economic downturn. As Fong wrote: “While some nonprofits have seen an increase in donations during the pandemic, others are experiencing deficits from the loss of earned revenue and donors’ unemployment. Some are projecting a 10 to 40 percent decrease in contributions in 2021.”
The dichotomy of charitable giving is that when the need is greatest, donors often are least equipped to contribute. According to Giving USA, when the Great Recession struck in 2008, charitable giving in the United States dropped 5.7 percent.
We trust that Clark County residents will keep that in mind. Once the pandemic passes, the need in our community will linger. And charity, after all, begins at home.