There are no words to describe the extent of the pain and costs resulting from this unfolding tragedy called coronavirus. In the best of times, most nonprofit organizations are already walking a financial tightrope daily as they search for resources to fund their critical work in our community. But now, the unthinkable has happened. Each morning brings new stories about the destructive impact that the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is having on nonprofit operations.
However, our nonprofits are resilient and adaptable, in part because they are so clearly focused on their missions. They know they must persevere and prove how capable they are in surmounting the obstacles in front of them.
One thing is for sure: Nonprofits need their donors to contribute at higher levels than ever before. If you are able to contribute financially, now is the time to continue and even increase your donations to the nonprofits you believe in.
I have had the privilege of interviewing some of our valiant nonprofit leaders about how the pandemic is creating challenges and opportunities for them. I will share a summary of four of those interviews with you in this column.
» Greg Gorga, executive director, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Mission: Creating quality exhibits and educational experiences that celebrate the Santa Barbara Channel and illuminate our rich connections with the sea.
“The quarantine resulting from the COVID-19 virus has had a serious negative impact on our work at the museum,” Gorga said. “It has already cost us over $100,000 in lost revenue, canceled pledges, canceled weddings, and loss of store and admission sales.”
The museum closed March 14, and Gorga says it probably won’t reopen until at least June. The staff members are working from home and currently are being paid for the next 2½ months using funds from the museum’s Paycheck Protection Program loan.
Unfortunately, the museum also had to cancel all of its education programs for its clients, many of which may not resume until the fall or later. Its 20th anniversary fundraiser, set for May 29, has been moved to an online venue.
Gorga said he is proud of the addition of an “At Home” page on the museum’s website that has craft activities, videos and more. Its lectures are online as well, and it continues to create more online content, including a narrated tour of the museum.
Gorga’s suggestions for other nonprofits is to communicate with and care for the staff, both of which are keys to eventually resuming services.
» Lori Goodman, executive director, Isla Vista Youth Projects
Mission: The Isla Vista Youth Projects strengthens our community through diverse educational, recreational and social programs for children and families regardless of income.
“We made the difficult decision to close our child care operations, leaving 127 children ages 0 to 5 without care and leaving more than 240 school-age children without the care they would have gotten after school,” Goodman said. “We don’t know when we will be able to reopen. We are committed to doing our part to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our health care system with the COVID-19 virus.”
IVYP also provides an emergency food pantry for its families, feeding about 400 families each week. It is carefully observing social distancing constraints, so families must make an appointment to pick up food. It also continues to support families with CalFresh and Medi-Cal sign-ups.
One of its biggest challenges is technology. Staff members call each family every week to check in on their physical, emotional and educational needs, then it provides a clearing house to meet those needs.
However, some of IVYP’s teachers and many of the families they serve do not own a computer or have Wi-Fi.
“We talk about the achievement gap in low-income students, but I am seeing dire consequences of the technology gap,” Goodman said.
Goodman is not sure how IVYP will survive the pandemic challenges. Even though its state-funded child care and after-school care will continue to receive funds for those certified children, it also serves many private-pay low-income families as well.
“This crisis is revealing our weaknesses but also our strengths,” Goodman said. “I am seeing tremendous commitment, creativity, resilience and collaboration. It’s inspiring.”
When I asked Goodman about her advice for other nonprofits, she said, “I believe we are going to be dealing with social distancing for many months. My advice is to accept that this is going to take a long time. Take care of yourself, your family and your colleagues. Breathe.”
» Jan Campbell, executive director, Domestic Violence Solutions
Mission: Domestic Violence Solutions provides safety, shelter and support for families and individuals affected by domestic violence and collaborates with community partners to raise awareness regarding the cause, prevalence and impact.
Its administrative office is open and conducting business as usual. However, some services have been reduced or changed. It’s not accepting new clients in the Santa Barbara shelter, but instead is transporting them to its Santa Maria facility.
“We are using telehealth now for our case management, and it is working very well,” Campbell said. “Our clients suffer from trauma, so we are trying to keep them as calm and normalized as possible. I am also working diligently to keep our staff upbeat during these trying times.”
Campbell reported that the Goleta Chamber of Commerce has been very helpful by providing hotel vouchers and connections. Other supporters have included the county, the cities, and the consortium of funders led by the Santa Barbara Foundation, United Way and the Hutton Parker Foundation. These agencies have provided critical financial support for general operating expenses.
» Lisa Brabo, Ph.D., executive director, Family Service Agency
Mission: Providing hope, strength and stability to Santa Barbara County children, families and seniors.
“FSA’s core services for families and seniors — basic needs assistance and mental health counseling — are needed by even more community members during this crisis and will continue throughout,” Brabo said. “We are providing most assistance via telephone and video now in order to safeguard everyone’s health and safety. We provide in-person assistance when essential, such as for food distribution.
“We are partnering with the Foodbank to increase emergency food distribution, and assisting with cash and other basic needs assistance for community members. We are also continuing our mental health counseling for students even though schools are closed, and are also providing mental health counseling and support for individuals, families and seniors during this very stressful time.”
FSA’s primary challenge is keeping the agency adequately funded during this crisis, since even more people need its help. The agency doesn’t have a lot of reserves, so it is being very careful about its financial and service decisions, according to Brabo.
For example, given the situation, it is difficult to meet all of its existing contract deliverables, and in some cases the deliverables are not workable during the crisis. It has been asking for flexibility with its contracts in order to continue services in the ways they are needed now.
It has been successful in almost all of the negotiations.
Brabo makes a point of communicating frequently with staff so that they are updated on all that is occurring and have the opportunity to ask questions and talk through concerns.
She is also emphasizing self-care during this stressful time and supporting staff in learning the new skills so they can work effectively as they provide services remotely.
When I asked Brabo what advice she has for other nonprofits, she said, “Persist. Be creative. People are counting on us.”
— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or email@example.com. The opinions expressed are her own.