COVID-19: A triple threat to nonprofits and charities

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Ontario’s 58,000 nonprofits and charities across the province are facing a triple threat as a result of COVID-19. Close to 75% of organizations have abruptly lost revenue from fundraising activities, while 73% grapple with the closure of offices and cancellation of programs and services, and over a third face unprecedented human resource challenges with staff and volunteers. The data comes from a provincial survey by the Ontario Nonprofit Network.

Nonprofit leaders are concerned about the safety of their employees, many of whom are front-line staff with insufficient access to personal protective equipment. Leaders are also worried about the capacity of their organizations to carry out their missions amid the crisis.

“Every part of our sector is affected. Nonprofits exist to serve others and Ontario communities will suffer if nonprofits don’t survive and thrive now and beyond this crisis. Relief can’t come soon enough,” said Cathy Taylor, Executive Director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN).

However, even in the face of challenging times nonprofits remain resilient and innovative, working on the frontlines to support their communities. Almost 50% of nonprofits are open and operating, but with modified regular operations, and in some cases moving to online operations. Most of the respondents (42%) serve local communities.

ONN is calling for governments to provide stabilization funding for the nonprofit sector, flexibility in public and private funding agreements, immediate assistance for operating expenses, including rent and mortgage relief, and paid sick leave and other worker supports.

Almost 20% of nonprofits have closed their doors – at least for now – because of the pandemic, or are making plans to do so. Over three- quarters of respondents have experienced disruption of services to clients and communities. Almost 75% have seen reduced revenue from fundraising, with the hardhit arts sector reporting an 81% reduction in ticket and event sales. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will cost almost half of the organizations between $50,000 and $250,000 each. Of those continuing operations, almost 22% will need less than $50,000 to maintain operations and meet demand during the pandemic, while 17% will need $50,000 – $100,000.

Nonprofits are experiencing staff and volunteer absences of 35%, likely due to concerns about contagion in doing their work. One third of respondents indicated their organization has either reduced hours for workers or have laid off staff.

“Arts organizations are having to cancel shows, recreation centres have been shut during the state of emergency, and front-line social services and residential homes are struggling to provide services safely without access to adequate testing and personal protection equipment. Catering, courier, and retail social enterprises that employ people with disabilities have had to close up shop. Food banks are running low on provisions and volunteers,” said Cathy Taylor.

Rural organizations have been uniquely affected, with some identifying further social isolation because of the lack of transportation, and the lack of reliable internet access and suitable bandwidth. “Remote work is impossible in rural Ontario,” said one respondent.

The survey was open to Ontario nonprofits, charities, and nonprofit co-operatives with a mission to serve a public benefit, with close to 500 responses received via an online tool.

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