The 'last' word on what nonprofits really need

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Fear and uncertainty about how some Colorado nonprofits will survive the next several months has come through loud and clear. 

Even in the best of times, executive directors of many nonprofits lie awake at night worrying. They're usually thinking about how they're going to bring in enough revenue to cover their expenses so they can serve their missions. To be honest, I just assume this to be true because I've done this myself. A lot. 

We at Philanthropy Colorado had already sent out a survey last week (to collect some specifics for funders about what nonprofits need immediately in the face of the pandemic) when the nonprofit blogger Vu Le sent out this tweet to his 17,000-plus followers: "Funders, stop surveying nonprofits about how covid affects them! They are losing funds, facing layoffs, and are in crisis. There, survey complete, just give money!"

By then, over the course of a couple of days, we'd already received several hundred responses to our relatively unscientific query -- far more than we expected. What didn't surprise us was what we learned once we started sifting through the comments.

Some agencies expressed support for ensuring that philanthropic and government funding goes to emergency relief to organizations on the frontlines of the crisis. But many others emphasized that virtually any and all nonprofits across our state will be adversely affected in this environment.

In short, funders can help by releasing grantees from any restrictions on funding they've already received. And nonprofits overwhelmingly requested that any deadlines and reporting requirements be extended or simplified. Moving swiftly on decisions, increasing foundation spending, and making it easier to access funding were among the most common pleas for help.

One survey respondent summed it up this way: “Please understand that all small nonprofits are already working from a place of limited resources. Because the disruption created by coronavirus stretches from the economy and donations, to employment and clients, to instability and basic needs, we are now tasked to do more, with less, when we were already doing more with less. Supporting us with funds with a minimal investment of time required on a proposal would help.”

The results of this quick survey highlight some of the universal challenges this crisis has posed.

The inability to meet in person has made it impossible for many organizations to do their work of caring for children, teaching classes, holding fundraisers, serving clients and much, much more. Communications and technology access, burnout and isolation have stoked anxieties and diminished the concept of community cohesion. The loss of volunteers, food access for the vulnerable, employment losses and small business closures have all added to the stress and strain on the sector.

Those nonprofits who mentioned hearing from funders proactively via phone or email were extremely appreciative of this outreach. “I've had two grantmakers reach out to see if there is anything additional they could do. Another one simply sent a check for double the amount they gave us in December,” a nonprofit said in their survey response. “That's a HUGE help as we are uncertain about fundraising right now.”

In other words -- and it probably goes without saying -- a little communication will go a long way right now. “It helps to know that we are all in this together and will find the way out as a sector," a nonprofit wrote. 

You can read the full summary of what we heard here.   

-- Joanne Kelley, CEO, Philanthropy Colorado


Find More By