While no industry has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits have been impacted greatly, particularly regarding their operations and ability to provide services to their intended communities. The TU Empowering Communities Project, led by Dr. Aminata Sillah and Dr. Donn Worgs within the Department of Political Science, and supported as a BTU Investment, conducted a two-week survey in the summer of 2020 to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Baltimore City nonprofits.

The survey was distributed to 50 partner organizations identifying as Black or Minority oriented and had a 50 percent completion rate, with 25 responding. The survey targeted smaller organizations, with the majority (70 percent) having only 1–5 staff, with a variety of focus areas within the community. The largest area of focus was youth development (25 percent), followed by education, housing/community development, and other sectors, each accounting for 15 percent. Other areas represented included humanitarian/basic needs, seniors, vulnerable adults, environment, and homelessness. The results indicate that the pandemic has caused a systemic economic impact on nonprofits, disrupting service levels, revenue, events, volunteer recruitment, and overall organization capacity.

Impact on fundraising and operational costs

Due to canceled fundraising events, frozen state budgets, changes in priorities for funding on behalf of institutions and foundations, individual concerns to donate during uncertain times, and decreases in renewable grants, respondents reported that 50% have seen a slight or significant decrease in their organization’s fundraising. Meanwhile, 40.9 percent indicated that they have experienced a slight increase in fundraising, due to COVID-19 specific funding and grant opportunities, increased social media efforts, and emergency COVID-19 mutual aid programs.

Operations have changed drastically over the past several months, and, in some cases, this has impacted associated costs. Although 27.27 percent has seen no change to operational costs, 45.46 percent have seen either a slight or significant increase to costs, with only 27.28 percent experiencing either a slight or significant decrease. Increases are often related to increased demand in service, the need to rely on additional staff instead of volunteers, and paying overhead with no additional funding coming in. Organizations that have reported a decrease in operational costs associate it with receiving COVID-19 related support, operating virtually, the existence of emergency or contingency plans, and not needing to pay contractors due to operating virtually.

Impact on volunteer events and activities

While responses in other categories are more diverse, two areas that have seen a consistent change are volunteer events and activities and service needs. 81.82 percent of responding organizations reported either a slight or significant decrease in volunteer events and activities, caused by closures of physical locations, adherence to CDC guidelines, and hosting of virtual events. Alternately, 59.09 percent indicated that they have experienced either a slight or significant increase in service need, citing that individuals depend more on nonprofits, spike in domestic violence (for nonprofits in that space), demands for shelter, and needs to keep children occupied.

Our organization is normally able to obtain a host of volunteers monthly in efforts to carry out our vision, but community members are tending to their families and being cautious in efforts to not contract the virus or spread it.

nonprofit respondent

Impact on service needs

When asked what resources or information they need to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of responses indicated financial assistance. Other resources needed include technical assistance for online training and volunteer recruitment and engagement, grant writing support, and personal protective equipment. Additionally, organizations would like access to trainings to support time management, virtual communications, database and data analytics, board member trainings, undoing racism, financial management for unusual times, and general support and mentoring for executive directors.

We have filled a hole left by a closure of city buildings, particularly as it relates to distribution of Ensure and incontinence supplies. Many of our clients were receiving help from their families, either financially or in-person support, and COVID-19 affected their ability to receive family support.

nonprofit respondent

60 percent of responding organizations indicated that they have begun to relax their restrictions related to COVID-19, however, full re-opening will be dependent on guidance from city and state government officials, the CDC, and public school leadership. When the time comes to return to full in-person activities, responding organizations expressed a multitude of concerns, including the health of volunteers, staff, and service recipients, lack of reliability of others to take preventative measures, safely transporting youth, and a lack of resources and donations.

Resources for nonprofits

The valuable information obtained through this survey will be a part of BTU’s growing strategy around supporting nonprofits while focusing on equity and inclusion. In the meantime, below are a few resources that may be useful to nonprofits throughout Greater Baltimore and beyond.

  • Maryland Nonprofits: Resources and service provider list for nonprofits around advocacy, board strengthening, fundraising, and a Nonprofit Development Center for small and/or new nonprofits.
  • T. Rowe Price Foundation: Training and grants to support nonprofit capacity building.
  • Nonprofit Learning Lab: Trainings and workshops focused on board development, social media, marketing, volunteer management, capacity building, and organizational leadership.
  • Candid: National resource for training, research, collaboration, and grant databases.
  • National Council of Nonprofits: Producer and curator of tools, resources, and samples for nonprofits