Community Commentary/Opinion: Support nonprofits, support communities

COVID-19 is testing our resilience as individuals, families and communities.  Early statistics indicate that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on African Americans, putting in stark relief the health disparities that already exist in our country. The next several weeks will bring more challenge, and there will be much to rebuild.  As unprecedented as this pandemic, and its effects, so too must be our resolve and response to heal, repair and ultimately strengthen our connection to each other and the fabric of our society.

This crisis already is bringing out the best in us.

The community response to date from all sectors is inspiring and making an immediate impact.  Acts of sacrifice among health care professionals give us hope.  The recently enacted federal coronavirus aid bill (the CARES act) will bring important relief and protections to millions of Americans, including thousands in our community, and provide a financial lifeline to many local businesses. The Community Emergency Response Fund, a collaborative among the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, Cville Community Cares and the city and county is a rapid response initiative directing much needed relief funds to individuals.  The University of Virginia’s recent $1 million donation to the Fund, along with measures it is taking internally to support UVa contract workers and employees affected by the crisis, demonstrate Jim Ryan’s promise that the university will be both a “great and good” neighbor.

Businesses and individuals in this region also are rallying, as evidenced by Support Cville, a collaborative effort between the Charlottesville community and WillowTree, and Mutual-Aid Infrastructure-Charlottesville, a Facebook page that facilitates direct support.  Carter Myers Automotive is delivering groceries, prescriptions and rides to those in need. There are so many more examples, and these individual and collective efforts must continue throughout this crisis and into recovery.

At the center of much of this relief work are our nonprofits. Nonprofits feed us, house us, and keep us healthy. They support seniors, educate kids, protect our environment and our rights, and awaken our creativity and common humanity, especially during a crisis. We’ve seen evidence of that daily. From the Charlottesville Food Justice Network’s partnership with the Chris Long Foundation and local restaurants to make sure that city kids have meals over spring break to Art Apart, a citywide gallery “at a distance” program by The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative to promote creativity and connectivity across neighborhoods during the crisis.

Just as we meet basic needs and ensure urgent care, we must safeguard these treasured community missions that act as our social safety net and enrich our lives and livelihood.  Our social impact organizations — area nonprofits large and small — are a critical part of the web that knits our communities together.

Center for Nonprofit Excellence is circulating a Nonprofit Needs Survey to help funders and community partners understand, in real-time, the challenges of social impact organizations during this crisis. Preliminary findings from the survey show distressing trends in these early days:

  • More than ½ are experiencing a decrease in client usage of services/programs with 61% experiencing a decrease in earned revenue.
  • Forty-eight percent are experiencing a drop in donations and 46% anticipate a drop in the coming weeks.
  • Nearly ½ are experiencing challenges with staff and/or volunteers who have limited availability due to childcare constraints.
  • Fifty-two percent are experiencing destabilization of long-term financial stability.
  • While 80% have an operating reserve, 69% have three months or less.
  • Eighteen percent are laying off staff and 28% anticipate having to make future layoffs

Protecting and preserving this vital sector will require a phased approach and long-term thinking.  It will require individual and collective action. There will be light at the end of the tunnel.  Now we must be the light that shines glimmers of hope and stability as we get through the tunnel.  Here is where we, as individuals, can start:

  1. If financially able, maintain donations to the nonprofits you already support, even if the amount decreases.
  2. Accelerate and/or increase your gifts this year to help stabilize nonprofit cash flow now.
  3. If you are able to redirect your stimulus check into an investment in our community’s future, consider donating all or a portion of your stimulus check to area nonprofits.

Acting in great and good, and big and small ways, together each of us can be servant leaders for the social sector to ensure a healthy future for our region.  Thank you for being the light.

Cristine Nardi is the executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Gleason Photography for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence

Cristine Nardi

Executive Director

Center for Nonprofit Excellence

Dana Harris is the co-chair of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence Board of Directors. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Gleason Photography for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

Dana Harris

Co-Chair, Board of Directors

Center for Nonprofit Excellence

Dan Layman is the co-chair of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence Board of Directors. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Gleason Photography for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

Dan Layman

Co-Chair, Board of Directors

Center for Nonprofit Excellence