Pandemic Impact on NonProfit Sector & OBF Grantees

By Candice Pace

Life changed dramatically in March of 2020.  We have all been presented with new challenges as we learn to navigate life during a pandemic. Many businesses have suffered – from the retail industry to dine-in restaurants. One industry that has been hit particularly hard is the nonprofit sector. Anytime there is economic disruption, nonprofit organizations see both a dramatic increase in client needs and a dramatic drop in program funding and resources. The Covid pandemic has brought abrupt operational changes to nonprofits, challenging them to come up with new strategies to assist clients during this crisis.

The Oklahoma Bar Foundation seeks to help sustain Oklahoma nonprofits through times like these.  The OBF Grants & Awards Committee recently interviewed applicants from 29 Oklahoma nonprofit organizations who are requesting over $1.1 Million in OBF grant funding.  These organizations provide critical legal services to a wide range of people in need – children & families, domestic violence victims, immigrants & refugees, juveniles, and low-income Oklahomans with other particular needs. During the interview process, the applicants were asked how the pandemic is affecting their programs.  Also, in April 2020, the OBF Surveyed its current Grantees on the Covid-19 impact on their operations.  Here are 3 examples of how nonprofits are being negatively impacted:

First, nonprofits are seeing a huge spike in client needs. Results of the pandemic have been devastating for low-income populations. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) published an article in July reporting that “Ninety-four percent of grantees surveyed said that they are seeing clients who are newly eligible for LSC-funded legal aid. On average, grantees are reporting a 17.9% increase in the number of eligible clients due to the pandemic.” For many of these individuals and families, turning to a nonprofit for help is their only hope to put food on the table, stay in their homes or leave abusive relationships.

Oklahoma nonprofits are certainly feeling this impact.  The application interviews and survey responses revealed a dramatic increase in the number of new clients and needs related to the pandemic. Some OBF Grantees reported working at 4 times normal capacity to keep up.  Legal matters resulting from the pandemic included cases of unemployment, domestic violence, landlord/tenant disputes, evictions, collections, repossession, bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Second, nonprofits are seeing a drastic reduction in their funding sources. The nonprofit sector relies heavily on in-person fundraising to pay for programs and special community initiatives. Lockdowns and social distancing have put a sudden halt to large gatherings and in-person meetings.  A survey conducted by Charity Navigator and Reuters News of 4,598 nonprofit sector representatives in early April 2020 concluded that “as the pandemic has inhibited organizations’ ability to host in-person events, 74.8% of respondents reported having to cancel a fundraising event.” This is a huge hit for nonprofit programming relying on income from in-person fundraisers and meetings. In addition, incomes of businesses and individuals have been negatively affected by the economic disruption, resulting in less donations for nonprofit annual campaigns.  OBF Grantees confirmed this devastating news in their survey responses, reporting that their big fundraising events have been cancelled, donations are  down, and some state and federal grants have diminished.

Third, nonprofits are experiencing a lack of volunteers able to assist clients due to safety measures like social distancing and quarantining. The same survey by Charity Navigator and Reuters News concluded that “35.8% of respondents report a shortage of volunteers.” This has a major impact on nonprofits because it is volunteers who provide much of the legal support,  court advocacy and other services to those in need, and without volunteers, many organizations are forced to turn clients away. OBF applicants and current Grantees reported an absence of volunteers for their programs and an immediate need for funding to find and train new volunteers to help take on the increased client load.  They also reported having to limit the number of people allowed in each training class, which in turn slowed down the training process and put more of a strain on program staff.

Nonprofit organizations work tirelessly to help as many people as possible with limited funds and resources. Sadly, the need is always higher than the funds available to meet the demand for services. The pandemic has brought with it greater needs and challenges, pushing many nonprofits into crisis mode. These organizations need the legal community now more than ever. Here are four ways you can help OBF Grantees:

1 – Join the OBF Fellows and Community Fellows Programs. OBF Fellows make annual donations to sustain funding for Oklahoma non-profits providing legal services and education. Give Now

2 – Already a Fellow or Community Fellow? Consider increasing your donation to help fill the funding gap for our local law-related non-profit organizations.

3 – Participate in online fundraising campaigns like the OBF Grantee COVID Relief Fund. This campaign raised an additional $30,000 over the summer for OBF Grantees providing additional legal services due to the pandemic.

3 – If you have an IOLTA trust account,  make sure your bank is on the OBF list of Prime Partner Banks who pay higher interest rates and deduct fewer fees on IOLTA accounts. IOLTA is the major source of funding for OBF Grantees.

4 – Visit the new Statewide Pro Bono Opportunities Portal by OBF Grantee, the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation. The site  has many opportunities for pro bono legal assistance. You can search for the right opportunity for you by practice area or remote work.  The nonprofit community needs you now more than ever.

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