Nonprofit Organizations in the Wake of the Pandemic

By Dawn Duncan

As the world continues to weather the effects of COVID-19, local nonprofit organizations offer a clearer understanding of how the pandemic has impacted them, both financially and in terms of staffing, resources and planning.

While the community at large may be more in need of nonprofit services than ever before, nonprofits are struggling to adjust to the impacts that have infiltrated their agencies. We talked with four long-standing nonprofits in Northern Colorado to take the temperature on their current operations.

Laurie Klith, who has served The Center for Family Outreach in Fort Collins for the past 20 years as the founder and executive director, explains how her organization has had to make changes during the pandemic. “As an organization that offers education, prevention and early intervention, The Center for Family Outreach has changed how we communicate with our young people and their families. We now work remotely and provide services through virtual platforms and telehealth services. Our job is to reduce the intensity of a young person’s emotional, mental, physical and behavioral health reactions to conflict.”

“Stress levels have increased to a critical stage because of employment loss, leaving families without access to healthcare,” she continues. “In addition, the entire family is requested to stay at home 24/7, which causes high conflict for the entire family.”

Funding has also taken a hit for the nonprofit. “Additionally, we hope to relaunch our 20-year anniversary breakfast this fall, to share our successes as an agency. We are developing a sustainability plan encompassing staffing, fundraising and services moving forward.” Currently, Klith’s staff remains in place and no layoffs or program reductions have been made at this time.

Realities For Children provides for the unmet needs of children locally who have been abused, neglected, abandoned or at-risk. Founder and Executive Director Craig Secher notes the pandemic’s impact on their services. “This has led to increased need for emergency services, educational supplies and activity kits. It has impacted placement stability, access to counseling services, family visitations and mental health” of the children they service.“

It greatly affects newly-emancipated youth who are often on their own and rely on service industry employment and has impacted many regular short-term placements for homeless youth and families with church closures and other resources less available,” he continues. “The isolation created through the stay-at-home order is a very dangerous place for an at-risk child and without teachers, counselors, extended family and neighbors to see concerns of child abuse and report them, we have seen a drop in reports of child abuse in Larimer County as high as 66 percent during a time of heightened concern.”

“Through community collections and our distribution center, we have been able to provide school supplies, activity kits and nearly 200 Chromebooks to keep our youth connected academically, socially and therapeutically,” says Secher. Realities has also worked to equip counseling centers and clients with resources to provide counseling services remotely and have created a COVID-19 emergency fund above their allocated emergency funds for 2020.

“The biggest impact has been on our provision of youth activities and facilities space for partner agency programs,” says Secher. “Last year, 4,191 children attended our youth activities, and this is a key core service in allowing our youth to connect, has therapeutic value and allows a child to just be a child during difficult times.” Additionally, Realities’ Homebase Facility and Youth Activities Campus have not been able to host regular programs during the pandemic. Last year, Homebase hosted 8,232 children, guardians and partner agency representatives.

“We are very thankful for how community donors and volunteers have responded to these increased needs for emergency services for our children. With the impact on fundraising events this continued support is essential for our ability to meet all these changing needs for the youth and families we provide for every day,” he says.

Paul Donnelly, Communications Director for the Food Bank of Larimer County, explained that their organization started planning in late February for new methods to distribute food.

“Our pantries were converted from client-choice shopping to a drive-up model where clients are provided pre-selected food in their cars. This was a major change for our clients, and it required us to reconfigure our volunteer process,” says Donnelly. “Each pantry distribution day now requires approximately eight staff members and 60 volunteers over three shifts for an entire day. Our kitchen, which would normally be providing meals and snacks to kids at school, had to ramp up quickly to provide school meals at remote sites throughout the county. Our Nourishing Network, which works with agency partners in the community, has seen the amount of food it provides double recently.”

“In March and April, we saw a 40 percent decrease in the number of agency partners accessing food,” he continues. “That is likely due to the stay-at-home orders and decreases in volunteers and access at some of our agencies.” However, “we saw a drastic increase in the number of pounds of food the active agencies distributed, almost doubling.”

But raising needed funds for continued operations is in danger. “Our events for the foreseeable future are at risk. We will see a decrease in revenue due to any cancellation or diminishment of events.”

They have also altered the way they approach donors. “We are going virtual where we can. Our Corporate Food Fight, one of our largest fundraising events, was significantly impacted. At the last minute, we were able to transition to a virtual event and the participating teams did a great job of embracing the change.” Currently, the Food Bank has not had to decrease staff or reduce programs; the organization has experienced the opposite. They have had to increase staff to meet the change in need and alter programs to coincide with restrictions and accessibility.

He notes that community support of the Food Bank has been exceptional. “The community is sustaining us while we manage this new normal. There are so many unknowns and like everyone else we are trying to plan for multiple possibilities. We cannot say enough about our community and those who support the Food Bank. In just the last two months, more than 1,500 people have signed up to volunteer with us. We cannot do our work without volunteers.”

In the affordable housing realm, Neighbor to Neighbor(N2N) serves our community in providing avenues to stable housing for people from the homeless to homeowners, focusing on three key areas: renter and affordable housing programs, homeownership programs, and homelessness prevention and mitigation.

Brooke Cunningham, philanthropy manager, comments, “We have had to take all of our programs and services online, and some are understandably paused. But at the end of the day, we’re still helping folks stay in their homes. We have stayed true to our fundamental purpose, even though it is done differently right now.”

One of the biggest differences the pandemic has made for N2N is the demand for the Eviction Prevention program, which has increased 700 percent. Cunningham says, “All of us are engaged to respond to that severe increase in order to help as many folks as possible.”

In April alone, they have assisted 192 families and have experienced a continued increase throughout the past months. “A benefit has been the community’s response to offer support of our neighbors through this program,” she adds. “It has been an honor to accept donations and then pass them right through to neighbors facing a sudden loss of income to enable them to maintain stable homes.”

N2N is also concerned over looming budget shortfalls due to cancelled fundraising events. “We definitely rely fairly heavily on fundraising events, both in the form of our Rent Parties and also in our big annual event that will likely have to be altered this year, which is admittedly scary. We have had some amazing supporters host virtual and modified Rent Parties to benefit N2N recently, which has been helpful and appreciated.”

N2N’s current strategy is focused on spreading awareness of how this pandemic is impacting so many neighbors, sharing resources via press outlets and calling on existing supporters to help further their message. N2N has increased staff because of the significant demand in their Eviction Prevention services and has hired two additional part-time housing counselors, including one who is bilingual to further assist the Spanish speaking members of the community.

The agency has reduced their in-person Homebuyer Education, although they have successfully continued the e-home program, where individuals can receive information virtually and then have a follow-up session with a certified housing counselor.

Overall, Cunningham spoke with positivity in saying, “Neighbor to Neighbor has been around for 50 years, and we aren’t going anywhere. We have received grant and community funding that has ensured that not only will we weather this storm, but we will help our neighbors do the same. We are busy responding to the economic impact COVID-19 has had and it’s too early to tell the full impacts it will have on the industry.”

This cross-section of our nonprofit organizations in Northern Colorado sheds light on current issues agencies are facing. Community members are encouraged to reach out to all organizations they are connected to and offer support as they are able. Together, our community will weather this pandemic and ensure that businesses and our dedicated nonprofit organizations are able to thrive.