[This article was published in full in Harvard Business Review on September 17, 2020]
America’s nonprofits are under enormous pressure.
More than six months into the pandemic, those that provide direct social services are finding themselves overwhelmed by increased demand, because vastly larger numbers of families now need food, shelter, health care, and other forms of basic support. Many other nonprofits, such as performing-arts centers and choral groups, are simply unable to fulfill their missions during the pandemic. These organizations are hibernating, laying off staff, shepherding their cash, and holding their breath until the pandemic is over. Schools and colleges, meanwhile, are whipsawed between the options of opening in person and remotely, with all the obvious and subtle financial, pedagogic, and public health consequences. Virtually every nonprofit is struggling to deliver its services as safely and effectively as possible in a time of physical distancing, balancing its responsibilities to the public, its staff, and its mission.
And nearly every nonprofit is worried about money. Earned income is down, because people aren’t buying theater tickets or museum admissions. Fundraising events have been cancelled or are being held online, generally with a vastly smaller haul for the organizations. Federal aid through the CARES Act, particularly the Payroll Protection Program, kept many nonprofits from going under through the spring and summer, but governmental funding is winding down, and stress levels among nonprofit executives are correspondingly rising.
When nonprofits are under-resourced, their natural response is to turn to their donors. But is it realistic to expect a healthy stream of charitable contributions in the midst of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression?
Absolutely — if you approach the right people.
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