The American way of life for many people changed in a matter of days as federal, state and local agencies and businesses began scrambling in response to the viral pandemic. And charitable nonprofits, where people can turn when most in need, are feeling the change just like everyone else. While donations have gone up, so has the need.
“I think certainly front-line organizations have been able to raise some money specifically for COVID response, but I think they will expend that, and are expending money at a higher rate than they normally would,” said Loudoun Hunger Relief Executive Director Jennifer Montgomery, who leads the Loudoun Human Service Network.
Some types of fundraising have disappeared entirely—such as events-based fundraisers like sports tournaments or galas. Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties Director of Grants and Nonprofit Programs Nicole Acosta said nonprofits that were relying on that funding “are having to pivot very quickly.”
Other nonprofits collect fees for their services—either from the clients themselves, or through reimbursements from government programs like Medicaid. If those nonprofits aren’t able to serve clients ordered to stay at home out of group settings, they aren’t able to bill, and don’t get any funding.
Meanwhile, as businesses are affected, so is their charitable giving.
“Some of our large corporations, businesses, I’ve seen on Facebook make some really large, generous gifts,” Acosta said. “But I think some of our smaller businesses who are super community-minded and are giving back all the time, they’re giving back the ways they can, but they’re just not going to be able to give in financial contributions to nonprofits at the rate they were before.”
And Montgomery said while there has been an outpouring of giving, there are also some regular donors to nonprofits who have either lost their jobs or are just holding onto their money right now to make sure they have enough for their family—“which is completely understandable.”
And Montgomery said there are also organizations that are not front-line nonprofits like Loudoun Hunger Relief or HealthWorks for Northern Virginia, but which are still important for dealing with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There will be nonprofits that are teetering on the brink of closure, and those nonprofits are going to be important in a few months when hopefully things are better,” she said. “And they’re really important to the fabric of a healthy community.”
At the same time, nonprofits are changing how they do business.
One such nonprofit is on the frontlines of the pandemic, offering medical care and COVID-19 testing to low-income and uninsured people: HealthWorks for Northern Virginia.
Executive Director Carol Jameson said the nonprofit started offering COVID-19 testing on March 12, and decided at that time to focus their efforts on patients who are ill.
“If somebody happened to have an appointment for an annual physical, we would just reschedule that, so the only well visits we’re doing are the newborns and the well child checks,” Jameson said.
Although they’ve also been doing some telemedicine, and they are still taking new patients, without regular checkups they are also seeing fewer patients. But they are also funded through a number of sources, including federal funding, and have some reserves.
“As a Federally Qualified Health Center, we have benefitted from income that has come to all of the Federally Qualified Health Centers in the US through two of the stimulus bills, and that has certainly helped,” Jameson said. “And I think that has been done in recognition of the fact that the community health centers are on the front line, caring for people who are low-income and don’t have insurance.”
Meanwhile, A Place to Be, a nonprofit offering music therapy, had to rethink how they provide their services, said co-founder and creative director Tom Sweitzer.
“About four weeks ago we sat there in an office and, because we were all in shock and fear of what this all could be and we had to brainstorm, my team brainstormed for four hours straight,” Sweitzer said. “How do we pivot in this kind of world? Because we work with vulnerable populations, music is live, and we’ve known there’s been teletherapy, but part of A Place to Be is we really pride ourselves on personal touch.”
A Place to Be, too, has had some luck—including a large donation from a private donor, who asked to remain anonymous, allowing the nonprofit to offer its services to needy people in the public school system for free for eight weeks. That kept the lights on, staff paid, and let the nonprofit reach close to 300 more people, Sweitzer said. Beyond that, there’s a rainy day fund—“but we don’t have a rainy day fund for long. We’re just like every other nonprofit,” Sweitzer said.
And already some plans have had to be put on hold.
“We were ready to expand to Leesburg to a very large space,” Sweitzer said. “We were ready to expand to double our client load, and all of that stopped within 24 hours. And we will not be able to go back to that right away. It will be a time.”
But Sweitzer is irrepressible, and his staff has adapted to keep up their work. He said their work is as important during social distancing as ever.
“A Place to Be is a place where we hopefully help people feel like they belong, and a lot of our individuals know very much what it’s like in isolation, and now the whole world is feeling a whole lot of what they feel,” Sweitzer said. “So, for our clients, I can’t even begin to tell you how happy—as clunky as Zoom can be sometimes, they are so happy to see their therapist, or see their friends in groups.”
In fact, he said, they even managed to cobble together a rehearsal for a play they were working on—no easy task when singing along with two-second delays.
“I am a real believer that we must be together as humans, especially for my individuals who feel so isolated,” Sweitzer said. “This is difficult for all of us, but imagine being in a wheelchair and you hardly felt like you got to go anywhere.”
“Everyone wants to know how to volunteer, which is wonderful, but right now a lot of them can’t,” Acosta said. “Volunteering, at least in person, presents a lot of challenges.” Instead, she said, the best way to help out your favorite nonprofit is to send them a few dollars.
And a great opportunity to do that is coming up.
“I think the most important thing we’re focusing on right now is Give Choose,” Acosta said. The Community Foundation’s 24-hour marathon of giving, Give Choose gathers dozens of nonprofits together and collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Last year, Give Choose raised more than $320,000 for 92 local nonprofits.
Give Choose is scheduled this year for May 5, but early giving begins April 21. Donors can give as much or as little as they can, and can choose which nonprofit to support.
“I think for Give Choose, that day, it will be really important to say pick whatever is important to you and to be able to give,” Montgomery said. “If cats are important to you, the cat people are still helping cats. Loudoun Literacy [Council] is still trying to find ways to educate people in new and different ways, and nonprofits are being innovative and creative, and trying to find ways to deliver their services in any way that they can. Figure out what you really like and what you’re passionate about, and even if it’s 10 bucks, 10 bucks is helpful.”
“We’re really proud that we have a role that we can play,” Jameson said. “It does feel like something of an honor to be in a position where we can help the community.”
“This is all going to awaken so many beautiful things,” Sweitzer said. “I think at every nonprofit, not just ours.”