Systems and services nationwide are still struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic. This goes for nonprofits as well. Although many have risen to the challenges of continuing to serve their communities amid shrinking donations, new health mandates, and rising demand for their services, the pandemic has exposed many fragile areas in society. Nonprofits were able to help these areas, but now, they may no longer be able to do so.
New models, methods, and approaches are needed for the post-pandemic nonprofit world as exemplified by these two examples. The creative approach that nonprofits bring to the many problems uncovered by the pandemic will help them succeed in the future.
Systems Built for a Different Era
Many of the assumptions and systems upon which nonprofits were founded were based on norms and attitudes from a different time and place.
For example, the current model of community food banks which collect food at central distribution points and distribute it to queues of people needed to change during the pandemic. Such a model evolved during previous eras in which people lived closely together in cities. Now, it is just as likely that hunger exists behind suburban front doors or in rural enclaves. It’s difficult for some to travel to a food bank, and when people are asked to curtail their time out of the home to prevent the spread of infection, it is inappropriate to ask them to line up with strangers just to get food to feed their families.
Meanwhile, the wealthy who can afford meal delivery simply pick up the phone and dial for a pizza, Chinese or Thai takeout, or whatever they fancy. Families can order groceries online and have them delivered to their doorstep to avoid long lines at the supermarket.
Donations of food may be down as more people feel the pinch of joblessness or restricted income. According to one report, prior to the pandemic, 1 in 6 Americans needed supplemental food sources to stave off hunger. Now, that number is closer to 1 in 5.
“Get in line” isn’t an appropriate or helpful response to needy people during a pandemic. A creative response is called for to help fill the gap between the hungry and the resources available to them.
Exposing the Digital Divide
It’s not just nonprofit systems built for a different time that struggle during the pandemic. Expectations must shift around services, too.
Prior to the pandemic, many school children used the internet only in the classroom or at the library where free computers and Wi-Fi provided them with the same access as their wealthier classmates.
Now, however, with many schools switching to an all-online model and libraries closed to the public, children who lack broadband access aren’t getting the education they need. Nonprofits are being asked by their communities how they can bridge the ever-widening gap in these children’s education while some communities fail to address the root problem of the digital divide.
Solutions for Creative Nonprofits
It’s not all doom and gloom. Although the pressure on nonprofits to fill these ever-widening gaps is great, many are coming up with creative ways to serve their constituents.
Such creative solutions include:
- Partnerships with for-profit companies to bring resources to the communities. Food delivery services, for example, can be asked to take free food to the needy if they’re already heading into specific neighborhoods.
- Collaboration with community-based organizations that already have deep roots in the most underserved communities can help bridge many gaps. These organizations may know of resources, people, and places that can be tapped to help their specific communities that nonprofits outside of the community do not understand. Working collaboratively, both organizations can achieve more together than they can alone.
- Developing new methods, models, and delivery services. This may be the time for out-of-the-box thinking, testing models from the for-profit world, or seeking the advice of other organizations nationwide as to what worked and didn’t for them as they responded to local needs during the pandemic.
Nonprofits face a big challenge post-pandemic. But they are uniquely poised to meet these challenges through creative thinking, flexible approaches, and good stewardship of existing resources.
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.