COVID-19: Nonprofits Face New Challenges Amid Coronavirus

Many local nonprofits struggle to keep the doors open due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with significant implications. 

These nonprofits serve communities and readily provide resources, even during a public health crisis. But many face the uncertainty of what the future holds after the pandemic ends. 

Organizations such as the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) are working hard to support its employees, program partners, board members, and communities through this crisis.

“We are an essential service so it’s all hands on deck for most employees” Matlock-Turner, president of the Urban Affairs Commission, said. “We need to be in the office, shelter, or on the street at all times. Making sure everyone is safe and cared for is critical.”

As a home for nonprofits, UAC connects more than 80 nonprofit organizations throughout the Philadelphia region to serve more than 150,000 children, youth, and adults.

One Day at a Time (ODAAT) is one of UAC’s program partners, dedicated to serving low-income and homeless men and women and their families in the Philadelphia area, focusing on those afflicted by addiction and HIV/AIDS.

ODAAT President Mel Wells is now shifting his focus to those in his facilities and diverting money raised to give back to the community. 

“This is our chance,” Wells said. “We look at hard times for ODAAT to prove that you are not our clients, you are our family members. Our people need to know that they are loved and that they have somewhere to go and stay.”

UAC is advocating that shelters do not become quarantine zones for the homeless as the system does not have the expertise, supplies, or resources to accommodate this emergency service.

“We make sure we are in touch with all of the funders for programs so the resources can continue to be available to pay employees and make sure insurances are paid,” Matlock-Turned said. “We are lucky that we do have a good line of credit that we are able to use to keep payments flowing even if payments to us slow down.”

Conferences and fundraising events play a large role in nonprofit business models, especially during the spring andsummer months. As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing orders, many of these opportunities were canceled.

Felicia D. Harris is the CEO of HiTouch Enterprises and works year-round with a portfolio of nonprofits clients through event fundraising.

“Many nonprofits are in a fiscal year so are entering their fourth quarter which is when we plan their spring fundraising events to raise money” Harris said. “It’s important to close that gap before the end of the fiscal year, so many of my clients are applying to COVID-19 funds.”

Due to the importance of these events, nonprofits usually spend up to a year in advance planning for a successful occasion. Not only do the challenges nonprofits currently face affect the businesses and clients directly but also companies that are built to support these organizations, such as HiTouch Enterprises.

“As a business owner I have had to spend more time thinking of creative ideas and ways to do business, because my business has been significantly impacted by COVID-19,” Harris said. “Eighty percent of our business portfolio was event production and all of the events we were working on were either canceled or rescheduled.”

Organizations such as ODAAT that provide services to communities most at risk of acquiring the virus are facing unique obstacles in helping these populations. HiTouch Enterprises is increasing its client’s communication frequency and social media presence to make sure those in need are educated about resources they have access to.

“Many of our nonprofit clients provide essential services and are working harder than they ever have before, so they depend on us for marketing needs to get the message out about the resources they are providing,” Harris said.

To combat this issue, The City of Philadelphia launched the $6.4 million PHL COVID-19 Fund in partnership with philanthropic foundations to provide resources to organizations serving at-risk communities. Matlock-Turner emphasized the importance of those who are able to donate to nonprofits organizations currently working harder than ever.

“We are trying to find other ways to reach out and say we still need those funds and help today even more than we did yesterday,” Matlock-Turner said. “We believe we can get more done together and donations are crucial.” 

While some events and opportunities were forced to be postponed, others will happen, but virtually. Nonprofits have not only needed to find ways to pivot in order to raise money, but also to provide services. Many are using Zoom to broadcast events and GoFundMe to spread the word about their donation requests. 

“Forcefully, we had to get creative” Wells said. “We still will be doing a lot of events through social media. It’s a hard time, but it’s a time to step up your game.”

As a self-starter and entrepreneur, Harris acknowledged business will not go back to usual after the pandemic is over. He sees this as an opportunity to reinvent what operations looks like and to generate innovative ways to service her clients. Harris believes there is going to be a big shift, and this is the time to prepare for it.

“I encourage other entrepreneurs to not to look at things as a temporary band aid or temporary solution to get through this pandemic, but how can we scale these things so we can still be productive, create, and cutting edge even when the pandemic is over?” Harris asked. 

Words and photo by Cheyenne Dantzler.

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to:

Christopher Malo

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