Stay Safe Stay Home,” by Notsik (Photo by Wired for Lego)

October 22, 2020; Maryland Daily Record (Baltimore, MD)

Some nonprofits, once they figured out how to transition to virtual programming, found the results so promising that they might keep their programs that way permanently. This is true, for instance, for BEACON House, Inc., a supplemental educational nonprofit that found themselves with a powerful combination of lost revenue and facilities (school buildings) in the midst of the pandemic. Only one of its programs managed to survive, and that will be delivered online.

This has changed the organization’s budget profoundly, as we might imagine, but along with the cuts came some additions, like subscriptions to online platform services. It will resume some in-person work, but that is no longer a given.

Transitioning is somewhat easier, of course, for organizations with less in terms of leased or owned space. For others, online work simply doesn’t cover what’s needed, which may call for more face-to-face human interaction. Another youth-serving organization called Lead4Life, which works with kids at risk of an out-of-home placement, has had to reduce the numbers of those that can be served at one time.

The organization has developed extensive health and safety measures and has hired additional staff so that the youths can be placed into smaller groups that allow for social distancing; whereas the organization previously would previously transport six or seven children in a van, they can now safely transport only three.

Everything depends upon circumstance, but there’s no doubt that people are thinking in new ways about, to put it in Jim Collins’s terms, what is sacred and not sacred in their program model. Michelle Nusum-Smith, a consultant to nonprofits, says she’s seeing a “mixed bag,” with some opting to change course now and others trying to wait things out in hopes all will return to normal.

Nusum-Smith says useful new tools, resources and experiences will emerge from this moment and it will be important to capture all of that. “I think that those organizations will see the positive impact in their bottom line, in the stories that they tell about the impact of their organization and in being able to take the lessons from a situation like the pandemic and put (them) to work in other ways.”

Meanwhile, BEACON House is doing some consulting work helping other organizations think through their mixes of online and in-person programming.

“It’s been a new robust revenue stream,” Williams says.—Ruth McCambridge