We are now several months into the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with no end in sight, despite the optimistic statements of politicians and health authorities promising a vaccine on the horizon. No one knows whether vaccines and treatments in the development pipeline will work or mitigate the virus’ reach. In the meantime, local communities need philanthropic support like never before.
Unfortunately, the old model that treats nonprofits as “gap fillers” between the public sector and the private marketplace is outdated. In some underserved communities, nonprofits aren’t gap fillers but lifelines. Nothing has made this as crystal clear as the response to the pandemic where the distance between the haves and the have-nots is growing.
Nonprofits stand on the brink of a new era. As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, we must still deal with the realities of existing within the pandemic. To continue supporting the work we love and the communities we cherish, we must think beyond the “nonprofit box.”
The Current Situation: Post-Crisis, Pre-Resolution
One of the biggest challenges nonprofits face is sustaining the response. At the start of the crisis, the immediate reaction saw nonprofits scrambling to provide food, shelter, and care for communities nationwide. Nonprofits such as food banks experienced lines stretching for blocks as people queued for food to feed their families. Others helped their communities complete government forms for the Paycheck Protection Program and other relief acts.
But once the initial crisis is over, there are two areas of concern:
- Continuation: how will nonprofits continue if they have depleted their resources already? Many nonprofits have emptied their budgets to support their communities. Others have seen volunteers fade away as they heeded stay-at-home orders and haven’t yet returned to help. How will nonprofits continue their efforts if they do not have the resources they need?
- Support for the volunteers and front-line response workers: what mental health and social support resources are available to workers and volunteers suffering from caregiver fatigue? The emotional and psychological toll cannot be underestimated. Our front line volunteers and workers have seen and heard heart-rending stories over the past several months. Do we have resources to help them stay mentally and emotionally healthy?
Continuation: Thinking Outside the Nonprofit Box
The key to sustained response and continued work in the community is to think outside the “nonprofit box.” The “nonprofit box” is like a mental box people in nonprofits build to contain all the resources they believe are available to them. For instance, a nonprofit animal shelter may think of other animal shelters when their kennels overflow and adoptions are prohibited due to stay at home orders. There are still animals to feed and care for until the public can return to adopt a pet, or volunteers can return to help care for them.
But what about setting up an animal fostering program? Many people are stuck at home and lonely. They may be eager to foster a dog or cat. And, fostering often leads to adoptions since people grow to love the pets they’re fostering. Fostering takes some of the shelter’s burdens and helps people in the local community feel less lonely when social distancing means staying home more.
Instead of partnering with local shelters to get the word out, perhaps the animal shelter can partner with local senior citizen resource centers, community centers, and faith-based organizations to spread the word about the fostering program. This is “out of the nonprofit box” thinking—considering alternative solutions to a problem.
Another area where an alternative solution may indeed be outside the nonprofit world is among food banks. Food banks usually don’t deliver. However, companies like Grub Hub are already set up to deliver food to homes. Why not contact local for-profit delivery companies and see if they are willing to deliver food or meals to families in need? If they’re already in Neighborhood A delivering a paid order, it’s not a big stretch to ask them to drop off a bag of groceries down the same neighborhood block.
To sustain the response to the increased need in our communities, we must consider partnering with others. Some organizations have deep, trusted roots in underserved communities we need to reach. Perhaps nonprofits can partner with such organizations to deliver much-needed services to the people instead of requiring the people to come to them.
Caring for the Caregivers
Unfortunately, the mental health system in the United States was already inadequate before the pandemic. Resources were already fragile for the people who could afford mental health services. Now, with the stresses added by the pandemic, it is stretched almost to the breaking point. Again, nonprofits must come up with their solutions to care for their employees and volunteers.
One solution is simple: listening. Sometimes, people just need to vent—schedule time to speak with your team by phone. Let them share their stories. Often by sharing, the stress of the situation is reduced.
A New Nonprofit Paradigm
As the coronavirus response continues, nonprofits have the opportunity to reimagine their future. If we no longer fill the gap between the public and private sectors, what role do we wish to serve? What role can we fill? How will our services apply in the future?
There’s no one answer that’s right for all nonprofits but now is the time to consider these questions. We have an opportunity like never before to help people and to reinvent the entire nonprofit industry. It’s time to reimagine, reinvent, and reinvigorate the nonprofit world.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.