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Non-profits in the time of Covid

December 1, 2020

COVID-19 and its Cost to Charities

See how nonprofits, like JDRF, are fighting for their cause in the midst of COVID.

Nearly ten months into a global pandemic that shows no sign of relenting, it’s no surprise the entire country, and the world, are feeling the ramifications, and the nonprofit sector is no different. In a survey conducted by Charities Aid Foundation of America (CFA), 97% of charities polled reported been negatively impacted by COVID-19, with 42.5% of those affected charities providing direct services to those affected by COVID-19.

When you think about the services that nonprofits provide, it’s often centered on helping vulnerable communities and those who can be left most exposed to the ill effects of tragedies like an international pandemic. And if history can tell us anything about the after effects of the harm imposed upon the actual charities during these times, it’s that it can take a substantial amount of time and effort to recover. According to a 2012 report, “Charitable Giving and the Great Recession,” by Rob Reich and Christopher Wimer of Stanford University, the 2008 Great Recession reduced total charitable giving by nearly 10% in 2008 and 2009. And as for recovery? The next two years provided a meager 1-2% increase, which is hardly an adequate recovery.

But this current pandemic has not only brought a decrease in charitable funding, it has also brought about furloughs and layoffs of historic proportions among the workforce that these nonprofits so desperately need to care for those that need them most. And now that more than ever, the services of nonprofits are essential, they are expected to perform the same duties with less staff, less funding, and less means to generate the types of funds they typically receive. Think about all of the galas, races, and auctions that historically define revenue generation for nonprofits. Covid has even disrupted the formidable Girl Scouts and their annual cookie drive.

To understand the real, first-hand impact charities are facing, we sat down with Megan Ritchie, Senior Development Manager for the South Carolina Market for JDRF—the world’s premier type 1 diabetes foundation— to understand the impact COVID is having on their organization, along with taking a look at the innovative way JDRF has pivoted their strategy in order to continue to provide services the community depends on.

Like so many charities, Megan and JDRF have seen several reductions—in funding, staff, office space, chapters, and opportunities for events. Prior to the pandemic, JDRF was operating with 60+ chapters. Today, those numbers have been reduced to a total of twenty-eight chapters.

Compounding chapter reductions, JDRF, like so many nonprofits, has had to make the hard call of staff furloughs and layoffs. Prior to the pandemic, JDRF had two chapters and three offices between SC and GA, staffing sixteen people between them all. Now, the chapters have been

combined, and their department is comprised of only six people tasked with carrying the workload of sixteen in an effort to serve the community. But in speaking with Megan, one of the two remaining South Carolina staff members, while the loss of so many of her colleagues has been hard, the loss of JDRF’s largest donation generator—the live event may be the most lasting.

Like so many organizations and businesses, nonprofits are having to learn how to pivot their donation models, recoup budget losses, and maintain their community presence, all without the part of their outreach that most defines them—face to face, human interaction. But the JDRF foundation is setting a great example for nonprofits far and wide, by adapting their model to the new normal.

For Megan and her local JDRF team, it all started on March 13, 2020. With COVID new to the US scene, businesses everywhere were manning a response and for the SC JDRF chapter, that meant adapting to a work from home (WFH) lifestyle, while pressing pause on their spring gala. The event was meant to take place in two weeks, but taking into account the mounting case numbers, the group quickly decided to shift the event to later in the year thinking, like so many of us, the worst would quickly pass.

But, working within the healthcare community, Megan, and JDRF were soon to realize that COVID-19 was unlike anything that we had seen and was going nowhere soon. Most importantly, supporters, like those actually affected by diabetes, would be put even more at risk if Megan and her team were to have held the traditional fundraising event.

But cancelling the annual Spring Gala would mean a huge dip in donations, and that was not a loss JDRF or their communities could afford. Megan and the team quickly put their heads together to explore alternate routes. Backed by information from the scientific and medical communities, the JDRF team decided that postponing their signature event again was not an option. It was clear that in-person events would not be returning anytime soon so they settled on hosting a virtual gala late May.

When asked about the hardest part of re-inventing a gala for a virtual community, Megan said, “One of the most stressful parts was having to retool our silent auction in only a few weeks. We had items like trips to Italy, sporting events, and restaurant tastings—things that just didn’t work anymore.”

But the team quickly adapted, started placing calls, and had re-invented their event and auction, switching offerings to the likes of gift cards and curbside pickups, donations, and innovative spins on experiences to come. And, to keep the event engaging, the JDRF team worked hard to create an event that utilized both pre-recorded and live portions of their programming, allowing for a safe event with all the bang. Megan and her team worked tirelessly with local influencers like morning broadcasters to raise awareness, and they partnered with production crews to create high-value content and a studio-level experience for viewers at home.

As for the results of the virtual gala? With the team’s quick thinking, ability to shift the event, and tireless work of our volunteers and generosity of our honorees, the group was able to raise a stunning total of $470,000. While they fell short of their annual goal, without the costs incurred from a live event, they were able to surpass their net goal, and continue working towards their mission of helping provide research, resources, and hope for the diabetic community.

But beyond fundraising, Megan and the JDRF team want those they serve to know that the JDRF doors—while physically shut—are still open. The foundation is still serving the diabetes community, and they are working day in and day out to serve their mission. The JDRF team is using every digital means at their disposal to communicate with their community, fundraise, and spread their message. And for Megan, it’s important to her that they know, “at JDRF, we’re still here. We are still working hard for the mission every day. We are still fighting for a cure, for better treatments, for the type one diabetes community.”

Now more than ever, nonprofits like JDRF need our help. To keep them going. And to keep fueling their missions. Donate if you can—both time and money. And know that everything helps, including purchases from companies and sites that give back, like Just Cause Scrubs.

Interested in getting involved with JDRF? Follow them on social or reach out directly to Megan via (864) 770-0276 to donate, volunteer, or get involved.

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