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December 10, 2020; Jewish Journal

Some news sources are beginning to admit that they may have overplayed the doom-and-gloom hand when it came to nonprofit revenues in general.

An article from the Jewish Journal, for instance, admits that “the American Jewish community’s network of approximately 9,500 nonprofit organizations has largely avoided collapse during the COVID-19-spurred slump that has caused many for-profit businesses to shut down or significantly shrink.”

It then goes on to describe what actually happened, which is that for many organizations, there was no significant loss of revenue. This, the author correctly attributed to a combination of foundations increasing their payouts, the availability of PPP loans, and other factors.

“There have been reductions in staffing and services. But right now, our agencies by and large are being kept whole” with the help of government resources like PPP, and with aid from philanthropists,” says Reuben Rotman, chair and CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies. But that does not mean that it should stop anyone from predicting disaster for nonprofits in 2021.

T’ruah’s Rabbi Jill Jacobs noteds, “If we do see a deep and long recession, and if many donors find themselves out of work in December, we are concerned about a drop in donations, especially as more than half of our gifts come from a broad base of small-dollar donors.”

The fact is, as we keep saying, the kind of impact this year has had financially on any particular organization very much depends upon what kind of organization you happen to be. Congregate sites, which rely financially on attendance, have been much harder hit than other types of organizations. This article reflects that, too, noting that, for instance, Jewish Community Centers, which employ a total of 40,000 people across the country, have seen real budgetary fallout, which has led to layoffs.

By now, it should be clear that certain types of organizations are facing serious financial hardships as a result of the precautions required by the pandemic. Networks and localities should give active consideration to what these nonprofits need to survive. Otherwise, there may be some big holes in the landscape of nonprofits serving particular communities post-pandemic.

Beyond that, it sometimes appears that worry about the fate of nonprofits overshadows the far more immediate and legitimate worry over the health and well-being of the households impacted most by the pandemic. This includes communities of color, households headed by women, and frontline workers more generally, who have borne most of the weight of our predatory economy. That’s where concerns about next year’s economy should be focused, as many millions face precipitous financial cliffs not of their own making.—Ruth McCambridge