Bracing For Impact: How Valley Nonprofits Are Coping with Coronavirus

Madison RutherfordJuly 30, 2020
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Photo courtesy Angelina Aragon
Photo courtesy Angelina Aragon

Charitable giving drastically declines when the economy lapses into a recession – a bleak prospect for the Arizona nonprofit community amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits,
99 percent of participating nonprofits expressed being “significantly impacted” by the pandemic. Nearly 93 percent of the 488 Arizona nonprofits surveyed reported a decrease in revenue and 75 percent identified a disruption in services.

Yet, many of these nonprofits did not close. In fact, they’ve been on the front lines delivering direct services to the city’s most vulnerable populations.

“In the time of recession, what you see in the for-profit sector is a decrease in revenue, but you also see a decrease in demand,” says the alliance’s CEO, Kristen Merrifield. “With the nonprofit sector, you actually see a decrease in revenue and an increase in demand.”

One nonprofit meeting the demand is Human Services Campus Inc., an institution that provides relief for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“We can’t close. We’re considered essential workers,” executive director Amy Schwabenlender says.

The arts and culture sphere was also dramatically impacted. Advocacy organization Arizona Citizens for the Arts had to cancel its annual fundraising gala due to coronavirus concerns. According to executive director Joseph Benesh, the event accounts for 50 percent of the organization’s yearly revenue.

“We’ve been struggling ever since just trying to stay open,” he says.

Nearly 70 percent of the organizations surveyed also reported a loss of volunteers as a result of the pandemic.

Unlimited Potential, which focuses on empowering low-income families through volunteer-run education initiatives, had to rethink its programming amid the pandemic. According to board treasurer Joan Brunner, it pivoted by continuing classes online and providing food from community gardens and local farms to families in need.

Merrifield urges the public to contribute to organizations if they are financially able, as many of them depend on donations to sustain their operations.

“This is the perfect time to remind us that nonprofits are always there when we need them the most,” Merrifield says. “It’s time for us to now be able to support them as they’ve always supported us.”

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