A Look at the Steps Nonprofits Took to Survive the Pandemic

While a new report from BDO finds that organizations have struggled with finances throughout the pandemic, it comes with a silver lining: nonprofits also made faster decisions and improved technology infrastructure.

Many associations have had a rough time since the start of the pandemic, due to loss of in-person events revenue. A new report from tax and advisory firm BDO, “Nonprofit Standards: A Benchmarking Survey,” looks at how nonprofits fared since March 2020.

“It’s definitely a story of looking at how organizations moved through the pandemic and the economic downturn,” said Andrea Espinola Wilson, BDO partner and national nonprofit and education practice co-leader.

The report covers a variety of areas, including finances, decision-making, technology, and employee morale. In terms of finances, many organizations took government COVID-19 relief, such as Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“Sixty-nine percent of organizations relied on some sort of COVID-19 relief funding,” Wilson said. “That was a really interesting data point, since a lot of organizations—especially membership associations—don’t typically rely on federal funding in terms of their normal budgeting operation cycles.”

The report notes that while this funding allowed organizations to survive during the toughest parts of the pandemic, it will be important to stay on top of compliance tasks.

“While not all organizations relied on COVID-19 relief funding, for those that did, compliance may be particularly complex,” the report said. “It’s essential for these organizations to stay abreast of updates regarding these funds, from reporting and deadlines to forgiveness policies and processes.”

Fast Times Call for Fast Decisions

According to the report, 43 percent of organizations said they were making faster decisions.

“In the throes of the pandemic, the early time, the circumstances seemed to be evolving minute by minute, day by day,” Wilson said. “There was an urgency at that point in time that analysis paralysis would lead to our demise. We had to make fast decisions. I think there was an igniting factor in the pandemic itself that allowed organizations to move their decision making more quickly.”

And while this fast decision-making was spurred by the pandemic, Wilson thinks that technology may keep it a long-lasting trend among organizations. According to the report, 60 percent accelerated their investments in technology during the pandemic.

“Another interesting piece is the number of organizations that actually invested in new technology,” Wilson said. “How does new technology enable decision-making? I can tell you from my own practice area, my own experience, organizations that have invested in technology and have new systems at the ready definitely are making faster decisions. The purpose of most technology is to get faster, more efficient answers or information to leaders as well as to enable our missions.”

In addition, the report revealed that many organizations (36 precent) reduced staff or cut pay. With those changes, as well as the general stresses of the pandemic at play, 47 percent of organizations reported employee morale was low. This presents staffing challenges moving forward.

“Now, more than 18 months after the onset of COVID-19, organizations are adapting to a vastly different employment landscape,” the report stated. “The national labor shortage has only made recruitment and retention more competitive, and some nonprofits are struggling to hire to meet heightened levels of demand for their services.”

One final tidbit from the report: 30 percent of organizations are looking for new sources of revenue. Wilson said the associations she’s worked with are looking for new revenue paths within their existing missions.

“Most of the organizations I work with were not looking to reinvent their mission,” Wilson said. “That’s not what they were trying to do. They were actually trying to figure out new ways to deliver on what they felt was essential to the organization.”

How does this report data track with your pandemic experience? Share in the comments.

(lerbank/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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