The unique situation facing nonprofits during the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis – and how you should help

central texas food bank client

How can nonprofits prepare and respond to the coronavirus COVID-19 to maintain the safety and health of their employees while also responding to the needs of the at-risk, marginalized, low-income and otherwise disadvantaged communities?

Larger nonprofits might have more resources to be responsive, though they’ll still face some major challenges. You can bet the leaders of those organizations are working over the weekend and in the evenings to come up with a plan.

But for some of the smaller nonprofits – which in Austin, constitute most of them – their ability to respond might be hampered. Think about the services provided by nonprofits on the front lines of this crisis:

Central Texas Food Bank and food pantries helping low-income families access food and supplies

Nonprofit health care clinics like Volunteer Healthcare Clinic and El Buen Samaritano

Child care providers like Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area

Out-of-school Spring Break camps and programs like Latinitas and Creative Action

Programs like OutYouth and LifeWorks that provide support services for marginalized people

Homeless service providers like Community First! and Front Steps, which operates the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH)

Organizations that provide services for the elderly and homebound like Meals on Wheels Central Texas and Drive A Senior

Organizations that provide supportive housing like Foundation Communities and Saint Louise House and Hope House of Austin

…and many more.

Now let’s consider those organizations and how they might be able to activate some of the recommendations for preparing and responding:

  1. Stockpile supplies. Hello, we’re a nonprofit. Have we met? Most nonprofits don’t have a savings account or reserve of cash for times of crisis. That’s not their fault, that’s just what most donors demand of them. Donors and funders want their money used for specific purposes, on the people who need those service — immediately. It’s the rare donor/foundation/business that says, “Put this donation in savings for a rainy day.” How many Austin nonprofits have a fund separate from their organization that they can pull from when times get tough? Very few.
  2. Cancel everything. So, close food pantries? Close community clinics? Close homeless shelters and soup kitchens? Close after-school programs and facilities? Stop meal deliveries to the isolated and elderly? You can’t shut down basic needs for people who don’t have the means or mechanisms for supplying their own.
  3. Work from home. Social workers cannot work from home. They’re hands-on, working right alongside the people they serve, in their homes, schools, agencies, etc. And as for other types of employees, most nonprofits don’t have the technical capabilities to allow employees to access shared drives or even email remotely.
  4. Stay home when you’re sick. It must be noted that the 2018 City of Austin ordinance that would have required most nonprofits to provide paid sick leave is still in limbo in the courts, as a number of pro-business groups have sued to stop it. During this coronavirus crisis, the U.S. Small Business administration recommends businesses actively encourage their employees to take sick leave, but nonprofits might not provide enough sick leave for their employees and might not be able to do their work shorthanded.
  5. No large gatherings. Conferences, panel discussions, classes, meetings. If they’ve been cancelled, nonprofits might not get refunds for tickets. Plus, this is gala season, after all. Many fundraising events rely on day-of fundraising to meet their goals. And fundraising events tend to deliver the operational funding nonprofits need.
  6. Step-up cleaning efforts. See “stockpile supplies” above. We know there are many nonprofits who just get by on the minimum cleaning efforts as it is. Stepping up cleaning at their office cost more money. Also, you can imagine that stepping up cleaning at the places where they provide services also costs them more money.

It’s true that these efforts costs all businesses more money, but we contend that nonprofits are in a unique situation. With the current coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, the demands on nonprofit services will increase but the resources they have to meet those demands may not. But you can help.

Please consider donating to those nonprofits that provide services in these categories. Yes, it’s true that Central Texans just contributed a record-breaking $12 million to +750 nonprofits in our community. But your donation can be a powerful way to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this virus, especially in those communities that are most vulnerable.

The Amplify Austin site makes it easy for you to give. You can find any of the above-mentioned nonprofits on that site, or search in these categories to find others.

Basic Needs

Health Care

Human Services

This crisis is an opportunity to bolster our systems so that they are strong enough to protect the least among us. “The only way any of us is truly protected is if the least among us is protected.” While you’re hunkered down safely, supporting those on the front lines can help protect everyone else.

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1 Comment on The unique situation facing nonprofits during the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis – and how you should help

  1. A good reminder. I volunteer at Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, providing very basic services for our homeless neighbors. The homeless don’t have the option of staying at home. They certainly don’t have the option of stockpiling food and supplies as they live day to day.
    As a retired IT consultant, I would be glad to give any nonprofit free advice about services that enable working from home wherever possible.

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