Charlotte Nonprofit Services Were In High Demand In Pandemic — Now Their Recovery Begins
The Latin American Coalition has been providing services to Charlotte’s Latino community for 30 years. But its president, Jose Hernandez-Paris, says the organization was unprepared for everything the coronavirus pandemic brought.
The Coalition’s services have been in high demand. But while the organization has been working to meet the community’s needs, it’s also had to work through financial and operational challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“We just faced one of our probably most crucial crises as an organization in 30 years with a community that was the most vulnerable community in the middle of a pandemic,” Hernandez-Paris said.
Hernandez-Paris says the Coalition moved to create a COVID-19 hotline in March. This meant staff members had to switch their roles to meet the growing demand for pandemic-specific support.
“We were not really prepared for the change and we had to quickly adapt and learn,” he said.
Amanda Stewart, a professor of public administration at N.C. State University, has been researching the effect of the pandemic on nonprofits. She says this shift in priorities and staffing has been common for social service organizations like the Coalition.
“Nonprofits pivoted, she said. "They pivoted to continue to provide services, figuring out new ways to do it and adjusting old ways for the COVID-19 environment, shifting staffing models, shifting priorities, shelving projects that weren't as pressing as COVID-19 response was.”
Stewart says service nonprofits have been at a difficult crossroads as their services are in high demand while their finances and operations are suffering.
“It’s just that kind of push and pull, that perfect storm of declining revenues at the same time as expenses continue or even increase,” she said.
According to Hernandez-Paris, the Coalition had to invest in upgraded computers, phones and faster internet. At the same time, the organization canceled its five fundraising events that account for 30% of its income.
He says the staff of 15 made the decision to work one fewer day a week and get paid less for about a month so no one had to be laid off.
“What we knew was that we needed to be aggressive,” Hernandez-Paris said. “We needed to do whatever we needed to do in order to help the community. And then we will deal with whatever came afterwards.”
And he says a financial rebound occurred fairly quickly.
“We broke probably every record — historical record — we had as far as grants because the foundations and individuals realized that we were a critical part of the recovery and of the assistance of the community with COVID-19,” he said.
But according to Hernandez-Paris, while the Coalition secured a lot of grants, individual giving was down and expenses were up.
A report from the group Giving Tuesday found charitable giving went up 5% nationally. But according to the report, there are concerns that support will go down again this year.
That’s Hernandez-Paris’ concern, too. More than a year into the pandemic, he says money is starting to dwindle again. The Coalition’s services are still in high demand, but money from grants is starting to run out.
He says the Coalition is OK for the next six months but has already started to hear from foundations that funding will be down later this year.
“Because the people that were going to give or spread out their giving gave more up front,” Hernandez-Paris said.
Other nonprofit organizations that provide direct social services have had a similar experience.
“Nonprofits that really have seen an increase in need, in many cases, not an increase in resources to provide assistance,” said David Heinen, vice president of public policy at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.
A survey from the center found 40% of respondents had an increase in demand for services and 75% indicated a loss in revenue during the pandemic.
“The solutions that have been there for nonprofits are more kind of Band-Aids that were kind of one-time fixes rather than sustainable support,” Heinen said.
Heinen says in order for nonprofits to sustainably recover, they’ll need added financial support.
“There's absolutely an ongoing need,” he said. “And I think it's going to need to be met by a combination of another round of private support, but also governmental support.”
He means support such as more Paycheck Protection Program loans or directing funds from the American Rescue Plan to nonprofits.
At Care Ring, a health care nonprofit, executive director Tchernavia Montgomery says the organization has stayed afloat due to continued community support. Montgomery says individual donations and overall giving for Care Ring have increased this past year.
“We've just benefited greatly from the amount of generosity in the community,” Montgomery said. “However, we know that those gifts are time-limited and that we are moving into a new fiscal year. So it's going to be very important for us to continue to meet that increased need.”
Montgomery says the need for Care Ring’s health care services is only increasing. Care Ring has a low-cost health clinic and a program that pairs low-income pregnant women with nurses.
“As we continue to be a service for patients that are experiencing that financial hardship and distress and are trying to recover from COVID-19, we will need additional assistance as well as an organization to be able to meet that need,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery says she’s confident that Care Ring’s donors and foundation partners will come through with additional financial support so those services will continue.