Nonprofits continue to deliver vital services while adapting to COVID challenges, shifting landscape

by | Jun 24, 2020 | Announcements

Each morning brings new stories of the critical role many nonprofits are playing in trying to address the impact of COVID-19. Nonprofit Quarterly has recognized how nonprofits under these extremely trying circumstances are quickly adapting their service systems to fit the reality of social isolation and physical distancing and have stretched to meet the increased need they face.

>>Our local nonprofits have risen to the challenge in a variety of ways.

Even though some facilities are beginning to reopen, many of the digital services will remain available. Here are a few examples of how our nonprofits have adapted to the challenges:

  • Girls Inc Carpinteria: Launched an educational YouTube channel
  • The Symphony and Opera: Offering digital online content and streaming past concerts
  • MOXI: Providing a weekly webinar series on response to the virus
  • Natural History Museum: Provides a virtual tour
  • Zoo: Offered a virtual tour of the Zoo while it was closed
  • Channelkeeper: Continued to advocate online for taking action for the environment
  • Organic Soup Kitchen: Four staff work 12-14 hour days to make four times as much soup for increased demand, including Cottage Hospital
  • Foodbank: Created new ways of serving our community at 50 sites. Restaurants are making meals that the Foodbank delivers to individuals
  • CEC: Created a virtual Earth Day with an impressive lineup of contributors
  • Wilderness Youth Project: Nature Linkis a virtual nature mentoring program with Wilderness Youth Project staff. We host playful and interactive group calls for children of all ages that inspire nature quests close to home. The Nature Resource Portal is an English and Spanish guide to helping families connect with the benefits of nature safely and at a distance. Daily dose of nature gives ideas for connection activities.
  • Alpha Resource Center: Set up remote work offices and are working extended hours to serve all of their families. Created a virtual bulletin board as a great resource of information for families navigating these challenging times. Volunteers provided a system to collect donations for their thrift stores.
  • Sanctuary Centers: Moving to telehealth has proved a tricky maneuver especially when serving populations who do not have cellphones or access to Wi-Fi. Each population they serve requires a new, innovative approach during this trying time
  • Mental Wellness Center: The Community Wellness Programis operating virtually, providing the community with many support group opportunities and community resources. The Fellowship Club continues to serve their members warm lunches daily during the week. Youth Wellness Connection Clubs continues to promote social connection through weekly virtual meetings
  • World Telehealth Initiative: InTouch Health in Goleta donates their telehealth technology so they can provide medical expertise to the world’s most vulnerable in communities such as Haiti, Bangladesh, Malawi, Ethiopia

>>The importance of adaptability is clear right now.

La Piana Consulting advises nonprofits to try non-linear approaches to planning as they begin to create their new normal. For example, Real-Time Strategic Planning and Portfolio Strategy can provide quick, realistic ways of moving forward without extensive data-gathering.

To strive for a higher degree of adaptive capacity, La Piana suggests nonprofits consider possible changes in client needs, behaviors, and the operating environment over the next six-12 months, and how your organization could respond.

Set short-term financial and impact goals, along with plans for what you’ll do if you don’t meet them. As you consider creative new approaches or solutions, think about experimenting with rapid prototyping approaches, rather than launching major initiatives that require extensive analysis and proven track records.

>>Mergers and remote working may be part of some nonprofits’ new normal.

Over more than two decades of helping hundreds of nonprofits merge, La Piana has observed the prevalence of mergers to be 1 percent or less of the sector in any given year. However, in response to the COVID challenges, their research shows that 23 percent are now considering such partnerships.

One of them said they had been thinking about a merger with another group for years, and “COVID-19 has finally pushed us to begin those discussions.” Another respondent described it in job terms: “In order to keep staff, we are exploring a partnership with another nonprofit to share [an] employee’s time and cost of employment.”

In Santa Barbara, we have seen the successful merger of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce and Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce. Geoff Green, CEO of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation and chairman of the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region explained that “combining our two organizations and our memberships ensures our region’s business community will be in the strongest possible position as we work toward economic recovery from the pandemic.”

Many people are wondering what the “new normal” is going to be. Working from home seems to be a big part of it. La Piana’s research shows that eighty-two percent of survey respondents reported the majority of their staff are now working from home. Another 12 percent reported that half of their staff were working from home.

Going virtual doesn’t stop there—82 percent reported digitalizing some or all of the programs and services they offered. This trend generally held across all subsectors. As one respondent wrote, the pandemic “inspired us to be more agile, to pivot and approach issues more innovatively, and challenged us to look at our work differently going forward.” Another noted that “it’s been very difficult in many ways but also very positive in adapting our culture to be more fluid, nimble, and paperless.”

>>Our nonprofits need our financial support more than ever.

Even though many organizations have demonstrated remarkable creativity in continuing to serve our community by pivoting to new service delivery models, they are suffering financially. Many depend on revenue from annual fundraising events that had to be canceled. Of course, several chose to offer a virtual version of their auction but that still doesn’t cover the shortfall.

Thankfully, many donors are stepping up to give at higher levels to their favorite charities because they realize the pandemic challenges are endangering sustainability. I encourage everyone to give what you can to support our many valiant nonprofits that provide such critical services for our community.