Many nonprofits face perils as pandemic persists

Hardy Smith and Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

Nonprofits are in trouble. According to a story by Robert McCartney in this week’s Washington Post, one third of nonprofits may not survive the twin crisis of pandemic and recession.

McCartney says and I agree, “Most vulnerable are small nonprofits whose services are seen, rightly or wrongly, as less essential. Funders are now focused more on helping families eat and pay rent, and less on supporting programs in the arts and education.”

The article goes on to say philanthropists are also dealing with a growing recognition that they failed to overcome racial inequities in both leadership and patterns of giving. I plan to address this in more detail in a future column.

In my daily work, I talk with Board members and Executive Directors of nonprofits in our region and throughout Florida. Some are taking action to sustain their organizations during this difficult while others seem frozen with fear and unsure of how to move forward. These are very difficult times and tough decisions will likely have to be made.

I discussed these concerns with my friend and colleague, Hardy Smith, a speaker, consultant, and blogger for Board Source. Here are his thoughts on this issue.
No longer a short-term challenge

Nonprofits are now well into five months of feeling the impact of COVID-19.

The reality is this virus caused disruption is no longer considered a short-term challenge.

I am very concerned that there are nonprofits not taking action right now.

Some have adopted an approach of waiting for the crisis to go away so things will go back to normal.

Others are waiting for governmental assistance, availability of special grants, or extraordinary donors to step forward. Waiting for help to come is likely to have very disappointing results.

Some nonprofits are not taking action such as fundraising because they’re afraid they’ll offend someone. Many are still asking themselves what activity is appropriate considering the present circumstances?

For whatever the reason, there are nonprofits being frozen by pandemic created uncertainty.
Time to think, act differently

Leaders must find a way to keep their organization moving forward despite the difficulty they face.

Nonprofits should identify what their most important priority is now. And for some that will be survival.

Long range strategic plans should be put on pause. Consideration should be given to

action plans for short time periods. Think of strategy on the fly — constantly re-evaluating results of actions being taken, analyzing changing situations, and adjusting as you go.

The consequences for nonprofits not taking action will regretfully mean many worthwhile missions will go unfulfilled. I hope I am wrong; however several reputable sources have shared research that predicts a shockingly large number of nonprofits will not survive.

These COVID-19 triggered circumstances require organizations to think and act differently. Action is needed so nonprofits can keep moving forward to a future time that’s better than the present.

I agree with Hardy’s sentiments and encourage nonprofit leaders, both board and staff, to act now. Your mission has not changed and in many cases, is even more important than it ever has been. Now is the time to put a plan in place to help ensure your organization survives the current crisis to continue serving the community.

Hardy Smith is the President of Hardy Smith Consulting. You can reach him at Notes on Nonprofits is produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and Kelly Otte, MPA who is on sabbatical. Send your comments and feedback to

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