Building Nonprofit Capacity and Resiliency During COVID-19

Margaret Dunham

This post originally appeared on the Taproot Foundation blog.

COVID-19 has changed everything about our daily lives. People are keeping their distance. Businesses have had to completely shift their way of doing business or closed entirely. Organizations everywhere are feeling the strain of multiple crises affecting their communities. And the social sector as a whole is looking for clear action steps for bouncing back and building nonprofit resiliency.

Taproot Foundation gathered experts in the field for a webinar to share insights about building nonprofit resiliency and dig into some trends in the sector during this time. Panelists Sheila Morovati, founder of Crayon Collection, and Sonia Montoya, manager, assessment and advisory services, at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) joined us to discuss the pandemic’s impact on nonprofits across the country. Together we dug into data CEP recently collected as well as our own resiliency survey and discussed how those findings could translate into strategies for recovery.

What are nonprofits asking funders for right now?

CEP’s mission is to provide data so that philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness. They explored the ramifications of the pandemic through a survey that yielded several key insights into challenges nonprofits are now struggling with.

While COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on nonprofits, they found that negative repercussions have been magnified for nonprofits that provide direct services and serve historically disadvantaged communities.

They also identified that the biggest challenges facing nonprofit leaders have been supporting staff well-being, creating or maintaining financial security, and decision-making amid uncertainty.

In order to understand the resource gaps nonprofits are facing in this truly unique time, CEP had to ask some key questions. Their report Funder Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic was designed to surface and share what nonprofits are looking for in this moment. The nonprofits surveyed overwhelmingly asked for the same three things from funders right now:

  • Provide unrestricted funding — Nonprofits are looking for a commitment of unrestricted dollars over a longer timeframe so that they can focus on their missions and instead of fundraising.
  • Provide more funding — More investment is crucial. Many recommended that funders stop protecting endowments for the future, as the future isn’t going to matter if they don’t get support now.
  • Reach out to nonprofits — Funders must provide transparency and more communication about how the pandemic will impact future financial support.

What sector-wide trends are nonprofits dealing with?

Taproot’s survey on nonprofit resiliency brought a number of trends to light, especially when it came to the resources nonprofits are looking for now. Here are some of the major insights we shared in our conversation:

Resources in demand immediately following COVID-19

  • Marketing/Communications (63 percent)
  • Social Media (52 percent)
  • Technology/IT (49 percent)

What has the impact been on funding?

  • 66 percent of nonprofits surveyed are seeing a decrease in funding due to COVID-19
  • 55 percent have had to cancel fundraising events
  • 48 percent have seen a decrease in programmatic revenue
  • 43 percent have seen a decrease in individual giving

What has the impact been on operations?

  • 74 percent have transitioned to remote working
  • 68 percent have shifted program/service delivery
  • 20 percent have decreased employee numbers

How can increasing capacity through pro bono build nonprofit resiliency?

There are a few top-priority capacity needs nonprofits are anticipating for the coming six to 12 months:

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Business Development/Strategy
  • Leadership Coaching

Each of these areas is particularly well-suited to pro bono service, so connecting with professionals interested in volunteering their skills could be a huge boon for under-resourced nonprofits!

When the pandemic hit, our first goal was to ask nonprofits what tools or resources they were looking for urgently. Overwhelmingly, the earliest responses were that they needed time — 45 to 60 days at least — to sort out what their next steps would be. Nonprofits had to get their heads above water and assess their situation at the outset. They also pragmatically noted that there would be a time soon when pro bono would not only be welcome, it would be key.

When we asked about pro bono, 97 percent of respondents reported that pro bono would be helpful in the next six to 12 months.

Pro bono is going to be a crucial resource as the sector transitions from immediate response to on-going recovery: building nonprofit resiliency, expanding capacity, pivoting plans, and assisting nonprofits as they adjust to this new normal. Working with grantmakers to increase access to pro bono programming is one of the many ways we will continue to make pro bono as accessible as possible to nonprofits everywhere.

Margaret Dunham is content manager at Taproot Foundation.

Previous Post
What Will It Take for Philanthropy to Trust?
Next Post
Multiyear General Operating Support: What Gives?

Related Blog Posts