How did nonprofits make it through the pandemic?

Someone asked me this very question the other day about nonprofits where I live in Northwest Montana. Based only on my many conversations and virtual planning sessions of the last year, here is what I perceive:

§  Many nonprofits with employers were able to access PPP and other forms of support including relief funds distributed by Governor Bullock (for example, performing arts which often act as magnets for towns like Whitefish or Bigfork). Now, they are figuring out the reporting, and considering accessing the next round in the American Rescue Plan signed into law March 11, 2021.

§  Others working with existing government funding contracts, like domestic violence or child care, saw continuation of funding despite being closed or operating at reduced capacity. Many were able to adapt their programming, moving online or outdoors to still connect with clients, patients, donors, volunteers; others went into varying degrees of dormancy. 

§  Some, especially in health care/mental health, basic needs like food/shelter, etc. saw huge spikes in service demand. Food banks have gotten a lot of media attention, and locally (Flathead County, Montana) our homeless system responded in various ways like the special Covid shelter, and adaptations at the new warming shelter. 

§  Startup nonprofits have continued to open despite all this, including KALICO Arts Center (which originally planned to open at the end of March 2020) and Flathead River Alliance focused on the three forks of the upper Flathead River.

§  Fundraising is a mixed bag; big disasters usually shift some funding priorities, so I suspect organizations who are not in health or human service fields may be struggling to attract donations when they offer no programming like arts. However, outdoor organizations have gained cache and donations as those options remained open in the shutdown, even while a lot of attention has gone to basic needs and health care.

§  Nonprofits tend to run counter cyclical to the wider economy, doing better during the worst of a recession due to increased public investment and donor attention, followed by a slump as the downturn continues, investment dwindles and initial donor dollars run out. 

My friend and colleague Chany Ockert runs a thriving Flathead-based fund development consulting practice with national reach. When asked about how nonprofits did with their fund development in 2020, she shares this: “Among those nonprofits who continued to fundraise, we have seen a 7% growth rate nationally according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. A normal year is a 3% growth rate. We have seen this across the sectors from human services through arts and culture. The organizations I have seen failing are those who stopped asking.” So, simple lesson: You receive when you ask!

In light of rising concerns about closures in the coming years, I know challenges lie ahead for nonprofits, but I have also seen resilience that defies the predictions in my three decades in this field. What have you seen in your corner of the nonprofit world?