Running a Charitable Organization in Uncertain Times

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Social workers provide humanitarian assistance to a disadvantaged personWhen the job market tanks and the economy’s future is in doubt, nonprofit organizations can be affected in several different ways. Donations may decrease, requests for assistance will almost certainly increase, and closed businesses can make charitable work more challenging.

Family Promise of Brevard, on Florida’s Space Coast, faced some difficult challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. According to the Hometown News article “Keeping Brevard County Families Together in Time of Crisis,” Family Promise has seen a “327% increase in families calling for assistance due to falling behind on their rent, mortgage, and utilities.”

Families seeking services from Family Promise require amounts ranging from $300 to help with monthly bills up to $5,000 to relocate into new housing. To help with the increased appeals for assistance, Family Promise partnered with 2-1-1 Brevard, another nonprofit that helps screen applicants and select the most in-need families. This partnership helps to ensure the wisest use of Family Promise’s funds.

In not-for-profit charitable organizations, leadership means making tough decisions during crises and innovating new ways to continue providing help when the strain on charity resources increases. Running a charity during emergencies and health crises requires a solid education in public administration, imagination, and constant community networking.

Challenges Facing Nonprofits During Crises

During any crisis, be it a pandemic or a hurricane, wealthy people and celebrities will grab headlines with large donations to support those affected. Unfortunately, such donations only go so far.

Smaller, local charities took the biggest hit during the coronavirus pandemic. The reason, according to the Bloomberg article “COVID-19 Could Mean the End of Small Charities,” is that fundraising events like marathons were canceled or postponed, stores that collected donations were closed, and government funding was withdrawn or reduced.

But even larger charities, from religious organizations to well-known names such as the American Lung Association and United Way, were crippled by the pandemic, according to the Associated Press in, “Amid Pandemic, Charities and Nonprofits Face Huge Challenges.”

Churches that shut down services during the COVID-19 lockdowns were unable to pass collection plates at services. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation canceled hundreds of fundraisers across the country. Organizations including the Portsmouth Music and Arts Canter attempted to move fundraising events online, with the help of local celebrities. Still, the amounts raised paled compared to in-person events held in previous years.

And not only were donations significantly lower than in previous years, the needs of those supported by charitable assistance also increased dramatically.

What Can Nonprofits Do to Weather the Storm?

The future of fundraising appears to be digital. We now live in the age of peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, and other online methods of reaching out that would have been unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. As long as people remain connected, nonprofits can tap into this avenue of fundraising, even if other methods are unavailable.

Business expertise through corporate partnerships can help nonprofits survive and even thrive during a crisis event. The Corporate Philanthropy Report by Wiley Periodicals lists several useful tactics in “Corporate Expertise Can Help Nonprofits Weather Pandemic,” including:

  • Crafting crisis communication: Trained communications teams can help maintain public relations. A corporate partner can help a nonprofit by lending its PR team to create a balanced strategy for fundraising events and donor engagement. Nonprofit administrators should keep in mind that business partners can do much more than donate funds.
  • Shifting to virtual program delivery: Converting in-person events to virtual formats can accommodate shelter-in-place and social distancing measures by continuing fundraising activities online. Again, partnerships can lead to loans of corporate IT services that can help nonprofit organizations develop online content and events.
  • Creative fundraising campaigns: Creative social media campaigns and virtual programs are limited only by the imagination. As with corporate social media strategies, nonprofits can harness social media to keep supporters and stakeholders engaged and actively contributing both funds and resources.
  • Financial reforecasting: Another benefit of having a business partnership with a for-profit corporation involves the professional services of corporate financial planners. Such resources can provide detailed and invaluable financial assessments and forecasting models for nonprofits as they weather a crisis.
  • Updating human resources policies: A corporate partnership can also streamline and maximize human resources for a nonprofit. In many areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, even charitable organizations were forced to transition employees to work-from-home status. A business partner can assist with establishing new policies and guidelines for nonprofit employees. 

During challenging times, innovative and unprecedented measures can often benefit charities and nonprofits more than traditional avenues of fundraising and support. According to in “Tips for Communicating with Donors During Uncertain Times,” maintaining relationships and engaging supporters are instrumental to surviving crises.

Nonprofits need to focus on delivering their message to as many people as possible, the article notes. Focus on the basics of your nonprofit’s mission with clear and concise data, and continue to communicate with donors in new and exciting ways. Engage social media influencers and cultivate high-value supporters if possible.

Nonprofit leadership means dealing with unforeseen events as they arise and driving the organization toward its mission no matter what obstacles present themselves. The key to nonprofit fundraising is to engage potential supporters and convince them to donate funds or resources to help those who rely on the services of the charity.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online master’s in public administration program prepares graduates for a variety of leadership careers in the nonprofit sector, including recruiting and managing volunteers.

The university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs offers foundational coursework in public policy and nonprofit management while building skills in budgeting and resource development, leadership and governance, and communications and community outreach. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

Recommended Reading:

Innovative Tips for Coordinating Nonprofit Organizations
Harnessing the Value of Volunteers in the Nonprofit Sector
Seven Ideas When Budgeting for Nonprofits

Sources:, “Keeping Brevard County Families Together in Time of Crisis “, “COVID-19 Could Mean the End of Small Charities”, “Amid Pandemic, Charities and Nonprofits Face Huge Challenges”