First wildfires and power shut-offs, now North Bay nonprofits face coronavirus economic, fundraising challenges
As economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic increases, many North Bay nonprofits are meeting their new short-term goals with the help of emergency grants from community foundations, but remain concerned.
Their client lists are growing, while traditional fundraising methods, like spring and summer events, are curtailed or must be modified. The organizations are provide food, as well as mental health assistance and housing subsidies, but must now buy personal protective equipment to engage in activities like food distribution.
“The coronavirus pandemic is truly uncharted territory, not just for our community but for our country. Locally, we are concerned not only about the health issues caused by COVID-19, but also the economic impacts it imposes on those least able to recover economically, seniors, people with compromised immune systems, those facing unemployment and economic challenges, undocumented people, and people without secure housing,” said Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County.
She said many nonprofits are struggling financially because of the pandemic.
“Most nonprofit organizations do not have emergency cash reserves to cover even one month of expenses. The nonprofit community is under incredible strain. They bore so much of the burden in supporting clients through the 2017 and 2019 fires. (They) are now doing the same for people impacted by this disaster,” said Brown.
Susan Cooper is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, which provides low-income Sonoma County residents with referrals to resources as well as financial assistance for rent, food and essential needs. Cooper said requests for food and economic assistance have increased beyond normal levels.
“Redwood Empire Food Bank has been helpful in providing the food we are able to distribute. We have received generous funding from Community Foundation Sonoma County for cash assistance and from United Way for operations which we use for employing the staff needed to get the funds out to those needing it the most. We also have had some private donations,” said Cooper.
Jonathan Logan, vice president for community engagement for the Marin Community Foundation, said his organization is working hard to assist nonprofits on the front lines of the response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our role goes beyond writing checks and making Automated Clearing House transfers. We're part of a communitywide effort to more broadly support those who need it most,” said Logan.
Alix Salkin, vice president for philanthropic services of Marin Community Foundation, said the organization has provided $2.2 million to Marin-based “safety net” organizations, including the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Society, West Marin Senior Services, Canal Alliance, Adopt a Family of Marin and other nonprofits.
Between March and early May, the foundation provided $4.8 million to Marin-based and focused organizations.
“Additionally, MCF donors have granted nearly $10 million additional dollars specifically for COVID-19 relief, with nearly $4 million of that for COVID-19 relief to organizations outside of Marin,” said Salkin.
Terence Mulligan, chief executive officer of the Napa Valley Community Foundation, said the foundation has directed more than $450,000 to 16 “second-responder” nonprofits that bolster the social safety net for local families.
“We've also given $100,000 to (Napa County Public Health) to enable uninsured residents to be tested for COVID-19. Our biggest grants so far, collectively more than $2.4 million, are to provide emergency financial assistance to low-to-moderate income workers who've lost their jobs but don't qualify for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus payments.”
Many of those were employed in the area's hard-hit hospitality and services industries, he added.
Organizations have navigated rough waters before, like the 2014 Napa earthquake, the 2017 and 2019 wildfires, and the 2019 flood. With the pandemic-inspired shutdown, some nonprofits are seeing volunteer sign-ups increase. Community foundations report new donors are stepping forward. There has also been more recognition and promotion of digital donation campaigns, which require less time and costs than traditional fundraisers.
What it takes to provide food, shelter and outreach
Catholic Charities is now focusing on “sheltering people, feeding people and making sure they are well,” said Jennielynn Holmes, chief program officer of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which serves Sonoma and Napa counties, as well as four other counties in Northern California.