As COVID-19 is changing the way people live, many nonprofits see their missions as more important than ever. The virus also is casting financial hardship on all sectors of the economy, putting some nonprofits on unsteady footing as operations shift to the nation’s new normal. In a time of social distancing, fundraising events that involve gatherings are a no-go, and some nonprofits that focus on person-to-person services have been hindered. The African American Teaching Fellows, an organization with a mission to boost the number of local Black teachers, was among organizations that canceled their spring fundraisers. AATF held a dinner that has been used to raise awareness of the organization’s mission and included celebrating and introducing the fellows to the community. Fellows are awarded tuition while in college and then work for AATF. The organization normally plans for nine to 12 months out for programming, like professional development, to ensure fellows are supported. But Tamara Dias, executive director of AATF, said she doesn’t know how things will play out because of the outbreak. “We do know that it’s going to have a huge impact on the people that we serve,” Dias said. “Our organization works with the African American students and African American young adults. We know that communities of color are going to [get] hit by this.” Although the schools have shuttered since the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading, Dias said her company has continued to work during the crisis, including interviewing candidates for the summer and fall fellowship and supporting current fellows and teachers. “We want to check in with them multiple times throughout the week to make sure that they are OK,” Dias said. When it comes to writing grants, Dias said the organization is expecting to feel more pressure than normal “because the competition is increasing because nonprofits are having to deal with issues in terms of funding and financial support. It’s super competitive.” City of Promise, a nonprofit that provides support to children in the Westhaven, Starr Hill and 10th & Page neighborhoods, also canceled its spring fundraiser, which was expected to raise $30,000. But its executive director, Mary Coleman, is optimistic, saying that she will be sending letters to donors. Coleman said she’s not worried because the organization has a reserve, which will allow it to sustain its staff. But what remains to be seen and what City of Promise needs to figure out is the new needs that children will have after the crisis in terms of the achievement gap, she said. Referencing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Coleman said that children in the storm’s path took two years to be able to get back on track. The COVID-19 pandemic is not exactly the same situation, she said, but many months out of school is not helpful for a child academically.

Mary Coleman, executive director of City of Promise, was among four panelists at a Unity Days event on early education at Vinegar Hill Theater on Aug. 10, 2019. Credit: Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow Credit: Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

“When I talked to donors, I tried to have them think long-term about [the fact] that we’re [going] to need additional funds to help kids with the achievement gap that’s going to result from this,” Coleman said. So far, City of Promise has been making sure students have access to technology. And her staff has been brainstorming about how they plan on assisting the students after spring break. “The biggest thing is changing our program model,” Coleman said.

Adapting to the outbreak

David Deaton, of Deaton Group Consulting, specializes in working with for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations. He noted the solutions that can lie ahead for companies and organizations as both sectors adapt to various levels of challenges COVID-19 has placed on them.. “When I’m working with the commercial sector, I spend a lot of time on financials. But now, I think that guidance and insight on the commercial side is helpful for nonprofits because they are trying to look at what are all their expenses,” Deaton explained. “Which of those can be minimized and which are already committed? For those that are committed, it’s about figuring out how to keep those deployed in order to further the mission as much as you can, given these uncertain times.” Deaton also said that for businesses and nonprofits alike, examining assets and liabilities will be crucial to maintaining cash flow and continued operations during the pandemic. He suggested that organizations discuss rent payment options or deferment with landlords, shutting down unused utilities and negotiating loan payments. For nonprofits to continue to carry out and further their missions, Deaton said they’re going to have to find new ways for outreach to donors and different ways to serve the people they serve. Meanwhile, some nonprofits were in the midst of new changes before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing gears

“Our staff and volunteers are changing gears,” said Peter Thompson, executive director of The Center at Belvedere. “Just as we were changing gears in one direction, we’ve gone 180 degrees in another to carry out our mission without opening doors.” The Center at Belvedere technically is not at Belvedere yet. Previously located at the corner of Hillsdale and Greenbrier drives, the nonprofit geared towards the needs of senior citizens as they age, was slated to open in its newly constructed location this month.  Now, the organization has shifted some existing programs to remote programs via technologies like Zoom and conducted outreach through the internet and phone.

AATF Executive Director Tamara Dias talks to fellows during a workshop Credit: Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress Credit: Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

Thompson noted how part of the mission of his organization juxtaposes with the current reality of social distancing during COVID-19. “Our community realizes the main thing to help adults age well is to encourage them to be engaged,” Thompson said. “But now we’re telling them to stay home and isolate. It’s a particularly difficult time for seniors.” It’s also a difficult time for small businesses and nonprofits, but various levels of government are offering resources and funding opportunities, such loans, disaster grants, and the recent Payroll Protection Program that falls under the CARES Act that recently was signed into federal law. “Nonprofits are basically businesses that invest our profits back in the community,” he said.  “We are employers, so we are trying to find ways to keep our people employed at this time. We are adapting to the changing needs of our customers. Our nonprofits are facing the same challenges as for-profit businesses.” As such, Thompson said that The Center has applied for the Paycheck Protection Program. In the meantime, The Center recently closed on the sale of its former location on April 1 and looks forward to being able to fully serve its seniors at the new location in a post-coronavirus time. Another Albemarle County-based organization is looking toward a real estate transaction to aid in it continuing its mission. In early March, Charlottesville Tomorrow reported the pending sale of a low-income apartment property that has been maintained by Albemarle Housing Improvement for nearly 20 years. The pending sale also comes as AHIP has seen decreased funding from Charlottesville city government. Now the organization may see reductions across multiple slices of its pie as the city and county reconcile their budgets with the economic impact of COVID-19. AHIP Executive Director Jennifer Jacobs said Park’s Edge Apartments on Whitewood Road currently has an undisclosed winning bidder that’s committed to retaining the affordable housing of the property should it continue with the purchase. Jacobs said that the process is just “going slower.” She added that the pandemic has caused a loss of a “safe harbor” for many sectors of the economy. “Localities are going to be hit by lack of revenues,” Jacobs said.  “It’s going to take everyone a long time to stabilize. It’s really worrisome, whether you’re for- or nonprofit.” For the time being, Jacobs says that her organization is looking at how it can continue to serve its core mission while suspending operations that aren’t safely in compliance with social distancing. AHIP also applied for the PPP. While the applications are open and being processed, banks are still drafting regulations as they go and it could take a few weeks for small business owners to see the money. Although the idea became law, the details have to be implemented through the banking industry, which is highly regulated. “[Congress] couldn’t possibly have thought of all the what ifs,” said Steven Blaine, a founding director of Virginia National Bank. “So the Small Business Association, the Department  of Treasury and the bankers’ association are writing rules on the fly.” The on-the-fly nature of the program can mean swift government aid, but also layers of uncertainty as it is implemented. “The rollout of this was so fast and chaotic for the banks and for everyone to have certainty on what to count on,” Jacobs said.  “We are trying to account for every eventuality, and not just sit down and hope that everything works out.”

Mining for resources

PPP might be among the latest funding avenues available to small businesses and nonprofits, but there are other resources available, as well. Deaton also stressed the ways that nonprofits will need to reiterate their missions and services to their existing or new donor pools. “Nonprofits are trying to think about how to recognize that their mission is as ever-important today as it was previously and how to work with donors in this new environment,” he said.  “It’s about connecting their mission with the relevance of the time and working with donors.” The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation also is offering grants as part of its emergency response funding. “We recognize that this crisis has left no one untouched,” said CACF President Brennan Gould. Before the pandemic, Conscious Capitalist Group served nearly 18 children at the Boys & Girls Club and 11 at the Blue Ridge Youth Detention Center. The goal of CCG, which was founded to serve under-resourced youth, was to expand to 100 to 150 children in its first year. CCG is attempting to remedy the wealth gap in the African American community by exposing children to skills like financial literacy and leadership. Members are children identified as opportunity youth, those who aren’t necessarily on track to attend a four-year college or university. Plans to provide virtual services to children at the detention center are under development, said President and co-founder Rob Gray. He said that at this point he’s not able to raise money and that he hopes donors can empathize. Moving forward, the pandemic will affect CCG’s ability to create substantial outcome metrics to apply for some grant to sustain its program in the next two to three years. “It affected me because my organization is an extremely new organization. We’ve only been around for a couple of months,” Gray said.


I was Charlottesville Tomorrow’s government reporter from 2019 to 2022. Thanks for letting me be your resident nerd on how local and state governments serve us. Keep up with me @charlottewords on Twitter. If you haven’t yet, consider subscribing to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s FREE newsletter to get updates from the newsroom on the things you want to know.

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.