Nonprofits are in double jeopardy during COVID-19. Many charities provide essential services to feed, heal, shelter, and care for vulnerable communities. The number of individuals who need their help is skyrocketing as U.S. unemployment rises, while charitable donations fall off and in-person fundraisers are cancelled, including galas, dinners, walkathons and more. Given that nonprofits comprise the third largest U.S. industry – only retail and manufacturing employ more people – adapting new strategies to cope in these challenging economic times is now as important as ever.
At Business for Impact (new window) we coach nonprofit leaders how to diversify their revenue streams through our New Strategies (new window) program. During the pandemic, we reached out to some of the more than 1,000 nonprofit graduates of the program to learn how their organizations are pivoting in these challenging times. Several nonprofits have successfully transitioned to online fundraising. Others are ramping up social enterprise earned-revenue models. All are doubling down on asking donors for more support. Here is how they are getting real results.
Make more than an appeal. Ujamaa Place (new window) (UJ) serves economically and educationally disadvantaged African American men in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (new window)Recognizing that members of the black community are suffering greater levels of health and economic harm from COVID-19, Ujamaa Place CEO Otis Zanders appealed to donors on social media (new window), sharing how UJ still provides shelter, career, and life skills training while maintaining physical distance.Also, UJ is renovating programs, upgrading technology to provide online training to clients, offering two meals per day on site, and ramping up new services in response to the early release of nonviolent offenders from incarceration during COVID-19. A New Strategies alumnus, Zanders says the 47% increase in donor response was because he made more than an appeal. He educated donors about the challenges and costs of operating during the pandemic, and inspired them to support UJ’s efforts to provide innovative, timely solutions.
Ramp up earned revenues.The Viscardi Center (new window), a partner of Business for Impact working on closing the disability employment gap, is a New York-based nonprofit with 400 employees. Both of Viscardi’s big fundraising events were cancelled this year, including a gala with celebrity athletes. Viscardi CEO John Kemp says that the Center is ramping up Abilities, Inc. (new window), its social enterprise subsidiary that trains and prepares persons with disabilities (PWDs) to perform essential jobs in cleaning and sanitation industries. The Center has special know-how in disinfecting protocols because many PWDs live with multiple health conditions. Viscardi is leveraging that expertise for a win-win: Employing more PWDs while increasing earned revenue for the Center during these challenging times.
Go Virtual, Go Viral.The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Berkeley Rep) to virtually host their April fundraising gala, OVATION. Traditionally, the event was a sold-out 400 guest dinner at The San Francisco Ritz-Carlton which generated nearly 15% of annual contributed revenue. The virtual event exceeded expectations, bringing in nearly $1 million from more than 700 “remote” guests and sponsors– almost double the number who would have joined in person.Other nonprofits are leveraging the internet to go viral. The veteran’s organization, Code of Support Foundation (new window) (COSF) supports members of the military, veterans, and their families. COSF has stepped up online email marketing, issuing a new COSF Covid-19 response (new window) which prompted the highest email open rate in six months. (new window)COSF is also capturing new donors through peer-to-peer fundraising and leveraging social media: One “peer designed” workout challenge (new window) puts man’s best friend to work in a whole new way and inspired a first-time COSF donor to give $500.
Government and philanthropic backstops. The National Council of Nonprofits (new window) provides updated COVID-19 Relief (new window) strategies for how nonprofits can access CARES and Paycheck Protection Program funds. Many community foundation state listings provide useful local information. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just launched the new PowerOf (new window) platform, which connects individual givers with opportunities to connect locally and donate time as well as money. Also, Independent Sector (new window) provides nonprofit leaders and supporters with templates to take action (new window) and advocate for better nonprofit policies.
Times are tough, but there is also reason for hope. Historically, we know from our research for the latest edition of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (new window) that national nonprofits such as Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity and UnidosUS not only survived but thrived after the 2008 global financial crisis. We are optimistic that many nonprofits will also flourish after COVID-19.We look forward to helping our next cohort of New Strategies nonprofit leaders diversify their revenue strategies in 2020, and we thank our corporate and foundation sponsors (new window) for making the program possible. Visit New Strategies (new window) to learn more or email Ernest Chico Rosemond (new window). And to every nonprofit worker serving on the front lines, we recognize and appreciate the sacrifices you are making to help others.