How are Nonprofits Adapting During COVID-19?

Karla Twedt-Ball
Senior Vice President
Programs and Community Investment

There are many unknowns during this pandemic, especially in the nonprofit sector. To get a sense of what challenges these organizations are facing, how they are responding, and what community members can do to help, we had a virtual sit-down with Karla Twedt-Ball, Senior Vice President, Programs and Community Investment at the Community Foundation.

Q & A with Karla Twedt-Ball

Q: What trends are you seeing in the nonprofit sector?

A: Nonprofits everywhere are seeing every aspect of their work impacted. Many rely on spring and summer fundraising events, and those are all cancelled; some are switching to virtual formats, but those are difficult to monetize. Health and human service organizations are seeing an increase in need, but volunteers are often older, so many of them are staying home. Donors in our community have really stepped up, but the economic impacts of the pandemic are so widespread that a gap still exists.

Q: What is the Community Foundation doing differently?

A: Our first step was to establish the COVID-19 Disaster Response Fund in partnership with United Way of East Central Iowa and The Hall Perrine Foundation. A lot of local businesses have made significant contributions, and as a result we have a flexible fund that will allow us to make weekly grants in response to the emerging and evolving needs of the community. In addition, we’ve altered and streamlined our Funds for the Community process to help nonprofits survive, maintain essential functions, and maintain the safety net for vulnerable populations.

Q: What can nonprofits do differently?

A: This is a difficult question because the long-term impacts of the pandemic are impossible to predict. Funding streams are likely to be disrupted for years, and the return to revenue-generating events will be slow. Business experts suggest that nonprofits that are well-networked within their fields and able to think innovatively have a higher likelihood of survival. In the meantime, the Nonprofit Network webpage has some valuable resources, as does the University of Iowa’s Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center.

Q: The Creating Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund makes grants to organizations and programs that work to reduce youth violence. How are those programs adapting?

A: Our national partners are monitoring urban violence across the country and while they thought there might be a decrease in violence as a result of COVID-19 – that theory has not panned out. Across the nation, the programs that generally engage young people are being cancelled, and the models that usually work to reduce violence are being disrupted by the need for social distancing. Locally, nonprofit, government and community leaders are working to develop a response that is viable during the pandemic. Some programs are moving to a virtual format with some success, but there are no past examples of violence reduction during a pandemic for us to draw from. Rachel Rockwell, SET program officer, is working with SET grantees on program adaptations that would provide outreach to individuals and families who are most likely to be impacted by violence. Right now we’re focusing on connection: connecting youth to programming, and connecting programs to each other so we can work together to reduce the violence.

Q: How can community members help the nonprofit sector?

A: Right now, a lot of people are understandably focused on health and human service agencies, which are doing amazing work in addressing pressing needs. At the same time, nonprofits in the arts and culture, environment and education sectors are also faced with serious economic impacts. These organizations bolster our economy and the creative life we have here, and as a colleague recently reminded me – they bring joy to our community. As people consider how they can support the community, I encourage them to remember that there will be a time when we will all be looking to engage with the organizations that make Linn County a thriving place.

All nonprofit sectors are critical to our recovery—from the health clinics and food banks to art programs and environmental protection. If you planned to attend a fundraising event, see an exhibit at a museum, purchase tickets to see a show in a theatre, or enrolled to take an educational class—consider making a gift to support the nonprofit producing those opportunities. These organizations are facing huge uncertainties, and the financial stress is widespread. If you have the means, make a gift. Share your support—it is needed now more than ever.