One fact we know for sure: COVID changed everything.
Knowing that fact is one thing, understanding what it means, particularly as we begin to—hopefully—climb out from under the pandemic’s impact is another.
At the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, in addition to ensuring we all stay safe and healthy, we are assessing how to help nonprofits across Arizona to recover.
Key to that challenge is recognizing that the tail of recovery for nonprofits is longer than other industries because the virus-inflected disruption on their ability to serve their communities has been so significant compared with other sectors. Nonprofits experienced revenue decreases and saw their business models upended at the same time that demand for services increased.
As a result, agencies doing great work statewide continue to struggle to meet not only their own needs but the changing needs of those in their communities.
An Alliance survey of nonprofits statewide earlier this year showed that 412 responding nonprofits either laid off or furloughed 2,098 employees and experienced a loss of 73,411 volunteers, or nearly 80% of the total number of those giving their time prior to the pandemic. Compounding the obstacles are pandemic-driven revenue losses of tens of millions of dollars.
We know that nonprofits are adopting a cautious return to in-person events at the same time they work to fill open positions, a challenge on its own.
In a Philanthropy News Digest review of a new book by Jeremy Reis to help nonprofits “stay ahead of the curve,” the article’s author writes that Reis’ suggestions are “much less about how to mitigate damage from COVID-19 and much more about adapting to the new reality of a post-pandemic environment, seeing the necessary changes brought on by the crisis as opportunities to grow and innovate rather than obstacles to overcome.”
That will be particularly important as nonprofits address the heightened demand brought on by the evolving dynamic of everyday life amid rising inflation-driven costs and the increasing needs for housing, food and transportation, not to mention issues of mental and behavioral health and addictions.
Many Arizona nonprofits have already shown their ability to be nimble, shifting and adapting to remain accessible, available and active resources for struggling individuals, children and families. Employing creative uses of virtual connections, programming and outreach is one prime example.
David M. Rottkamp recently wrote in the CPA Journal that “many nonprofits were able to successfully navigate the pandemic by realigning their programmatic strategies with the changing needs of their constituents, who were suddenly faced with new health, economic, and social concerns. Just as manufacturers found their products in low demand during quarantine and quickly transitioned to producing face masks, hand sanitizer, or personal protective equipment, these nonprofit organizations understood the importance of reimagining their programs to better meet the rapidly evolving needs of their communities.”
The ability of Arizona nonprofits to leverage their agility skills will continue to influence vital strategic thinking and processes, as will the critical support of the community through volunteering, annual giving and events like the upcoming Arizona Gives Day in April (www.AzGives.org).
As Rottkamp added, “Although the pandemic is an extreme example of the need to reevaluate programming and align it with demand, global crises are not the only situations that require such assessments. A nonprofit’s financial sustainability is directly tied to its ability to continually meet their constituents’ and community’s expectations and needs—all of which are constantly evolving.”
Kristen Merrifield is CEO at the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits