As coronavirus reverberates across offices, schools, homes, nonprofits, and systems, we are reminded of our most basic shared value. Each of us puts in the effort to re-prioritize and re-organize our work because we know that all of us depend on each other for a healthy community. For this to work, we all have to live by the often quoted mantra: “The true measure of any society is in how it cares for its most vulnerable members.”
At United Way, our approach to coronavirus is no different from our approach to all policy and advocacy work — we are guided by how our individual actions add up to impact the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community. That is why we focus on closing the achievement gap in education, creating career pathways to jobs that pay living wages, and making good credit accessible to everyone.
How is coronavirus impacting nonprofits?
As we consider the impact of coronavirus on the region’s nonprofits, it is clear that the spring fundraising season will look very different this year. 100% of United Way’s partners responding to a recent survey reported that they have postponed or canceled fundraising events or are actively considering it. At a time when their capacity to serve their community is stretched, this will mean loss of funding they depend on for regular operations. Additionally, many nonprofits rely on volunteers. The Corporation for National & Community Service estimates that volunteers contribute $3.6 billion in service in Massachusetts annually.
Beyond fundraising, the spread of a new virus presents a threat to nonprofit programming and operations. For about 70% of United Way’s partners, cutting back or going virtual with programs is not an option. One director explains, “The number of children coming to the center daily has not decreased, yet the number of staff calling out sick is on the rise. We have a couple of employees quarantined due to family members returning home from world hot spots. Some families we serve work at the local hospital or grocery store — they cannot take time off. Early education and out of school care — especially when your mission is to serve families who rely on you to pay their bills — is not a remote job, and we are feeling the strain.”
What are nonprofit leaders most concerned about?
In addition to the obvious concerns about illness in populations with compromised immune systems and overload to the healthcare system, United Way and its partners share a number of other concerns about how coronavirus will impact our region.
As schools consider closing, leaders must weigh the reality that 26 million children across the country rely on school for one, two, or more meals each day. In addition, not every family has internet at home to prepare for classes to become virtual. Some schools report they are urgently putting plans in place to send meals and support families at home.
Hourly and gig workers are already impacted across the economy, both directly as demand for services drops and indirectly as the loss of school and childcare keeps them out of work. One nonprofit director explains, “We provide care to the children of parents who work hourly or in the gig economy. We are concerned that those who are furloughed may not be able to pay childcare fees when they return to work.”
Philanthropy is a part of coronavirus preparation
Across the region, concern for the most vulnerable members of our community is our guide through coronavirus preparation. We are already doing it by rescheduling large gatherings, increasing our capacity for virtual meetings, washing hands, and sanitizing surfaces. But much more will be needed to ensure all of us make it through the spring together, with our basic needs met.
United Way reminds our supporters that robust philanthropy is an important and sometimes overlooked part of our region’s virus preparation. One nonprofit leader explains, “We are not sure how we should handle funds raised from an event that gets canceled. Returning the funds would impact our organization significantly.” United Way asks that you consider giving to nonprofits, not only to make up for the donations you may have made at an event this spring, but over and beyond to help them through this time. United Way and our partners are relying on all of us to be a community that is not only cautious but also generous in our response to the virus.
In addition, Mass 2-1-1, a program of United Way and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will be fielding calls from consumers related to the virus issue in cooperation with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). You can find up to date information at www.mass211.org.