D.C. Nonprofits Are Bracing For A less Bountiful Holiday Season This Year : NPR

Martha’s Table has seen an uptick in donations during the pandemic but remains concerned about whether December — typically their highest-grossing month — will be as fruitful this year.

Courtesy of Martha’s Table/

hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Martha’s Table/

The winter holiday season is traditionally a time when nonprofits count on an influx of contributions. Yet in a year marked by simultaneous health and economic crises, the coming weeks may be even more critical for local charitable organizations.

More than 2 million unemployment claims have been filed in D.C., Maryland and Virginia since the pandemic began. Those who can’t make their rent risk falling into homelessness once eviction bans lift. Food insecurity, defined as inconsistent access to sufficient food for healthy living, is projected to increase by as much as 60{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} in the coming months. And all of these hardships fall disproportionately on Black and Brown families.

Many charitable and philanthropic organizations in the region and across the country are struggling to meet increased demand for their services while contending with huge drops in revenue. Up to a third of local nonprofits may shutter or merge before the pandemic is over. And as these groups approach December, a month that’s typically their highest-grossing, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how they’ll fare this season.

For Rebuilding Together D.C.-Alexandria, which provides free home repairs to low-income homeowners, the pandemic has only made the need for a safe home more acute.

“If you have a leaking roof, obviously water is getting into your home. And any time there’s moisture inside your home, you have increased chances of mold,” says Katharine Dixon, president and CEO of Rebuilding Together. The average age of their clients is 75. “If folks did not have any underlying health concerns before COVID, and their roof starts leaking, then they certainly might end up with some issues afterwards.”

Before the pandemic, Rebuilding Together relied largely on volunteers — more than 1,000 each year — to do basic home repairs like fixing smoke alarms and installing safety grab bars for individuals with a fall risk. But now, the organization solely hires contractors out of concern for volunteer safety. That’s an extra financial burden many nonprofits in the region are now contending with; in a survey of nearly 260 local nonprofits, the D.C. Policy Center found that half had reduced their volunteer rolls or fully canceled their volunteer programs.

“Yearly, we typically receive hundreds of thousands of dollars — 3, 4, 500,000 dollars worth of volunteer-donated time — to make these repairs. And we will now have to pay contractors to do that,” Dixon says. “It’s a huge hit, but we can’t have our clients quarantining in unsafe and unhealthy homes, because they then might end up in already overstressed hospitals with an injury completely unrelated to COVID.”

The pandemic has not only intensified need and strained the organization’s resources; it’s also made it harder to fundraise. Rebuilding Together receives some funding from the city of Alexandria and the D.C. Department of Aging and Community Living, but most of its resources come from individuals, faith-based organizations and corporations.

“The public funding has not changed. But as you might imagine, the private has drastically changed, especially as corporations pull back on their employee engagement activities because they don’t want to risk anyone’s health,” Dixon says. With the withdrawal of volunteers comes the withdrawal of corporate funding for such projects.

Many nonprofits are also canceling events that would typically generate a substantial portion of their revenue. Amid safety concerns, the organization canceled its National Rebuilding Day fundraiser in April. The event usually generates about $250,000 in funding, or 12.5{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of the organization’s budget. As Dixon looks to the holiday season, she says she’s not anticipating any growth over last winter’s contributions. And after her conversations with about 10 corporations, projections for the coming year don’t seem too promising.

“Not surprisingly, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode, so even our budget for ’21 has to be extremely conservative,” she says.

Yet where some local nonprofits have seen resources fall, others have watched them rise.

“We have just had an unprecedented number of people who’ve stepped up to invest in our work at all levels,” says Martha’s Table president and CEO Kim Ford. The organization received seven times the number of donations this April as it did in April 2019. “A lot of people, and specifically new donors, who came to the table just truly understand that at the center of all of this is the need for money and financial resources.”

A big part of the mission at Martha’s Table — a 40-year-old organization offering food, education opportunities and other resources to D.C. residents — is to “alleviate financial burden,” Ford says. Many of their clients are watching that burden intensify amid an ongoing economic crisis, with an increase in demand for food across the D.C. region as high as 400{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed}.

Alex Moore, chief development officer at DC Central Kitchen, recently told Washington City Paper that the organization is “bracing for levels of food insecurity that are worse than anything we’ve seen in our 31-year history.” And that skyrocketing demand for food across the region is having a far greater impact on non-white residents. According to a 2020 report from the DC Food Policy Council referenced in the article, Latinx, Asian and Black families were 6.5 times, 10.5 times and 13.5 times more likely, respectively, than white households to report they sometimes lacked ample food.

To better meet demand, and to help ensure volunteer safety, Martha’s Table has made several pivots over the past several months. When their early childhood education centers transitioned to virtual instruction, the organization launched its first cash-assistance program, offering each of its 137 enrolled families $9,000, grocery gift cards and four months of infant-care supplies. (The organization has since partnered with several others to deliver cash assistance to up to 500 families in Ward 8 through THRIVE: East of the River.) Martha’s Table also switched from its food market model to bagged groceries. Since the pandemic’s onset, the organization has increased its output from 500 bags of groceries per day to 2,000.

“When a number of organizations had to close or restrict their operations, we’ve actually been expanding in that way,” Ford says.

Higher-than-normal contribution levels have helped make that expansion possible, Ford says. The organization receives some federal and local public funding, as well as corporate funding. But Ford says its “backbone” of funding comes from individuals, who provide nearly two-thirds of the organization’s revenue and some of whom donated their stimulus checks earlier this year. Ford remains concerned about how long Martha’s Table will be able to sustain increased funding levels, especially given its reliance on contributions from individuals.

“As the economic conditions continue to deteriorate, we don’t know if that’s going to last,” Ford says, adding that roughly half of the nonprofit’s annual contributions arrive during the holidays. “This is going to be a really, really tough holiday season. When you look at the COVID numbers that are spiking. You look at the devastation that the health pandemic is having. You look at the fact that folks have been furloughed or let go, and that continues to happen. You look at the fact that we don’t have a financial federal response, a second stimulus.”

Ford says that despite increased donations thus far this year, she isn’t “necessarily in a place where we’re confident” that this December will be as abundant as in past years.

The Greater Washington Community Foundation — which manages funds serving D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland, doling out some $60-$90 million annually — has also witnessed growth during the first three quarters of the year. In the spring, funding was up nearly 150{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} over the prior year, mirroring what community foundations are seeing across the country.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick over the last eight months from donors and other foundations looking to make donations around COVID emergency response and relief,” says Benton Murphy, GWCF senior adviser for impact. The foundation has raised more than $10 million for the fund, from an amalgam of foundations and corporations.

The fund’s biggest priorities are childcare, particularly for essential workers; food security; and unemployment. And about $7 million has already been disbursed from the COVID response fund, Murphy says. The organization is also providing a $200,000 grant to mutual aid network Dreaming Out Loud at a time when many mutual aid groups are dealing with burnout.

Yet the need for COVID-relief funding is much greater than what the GWCF can currently provide. Of the more than 1,300 grant applications that have come in for the relief fund, the organization could only fund 200.

Murphy is hopeful that “donor fatigue has not set in” as the giving season approaches. For community members who are looking for ways to make a difference, Murphy recommends people continue the relationships they forged with charities pre-COVID, whether through contributions of money or time, or support a mutual aid group.

“We know already that nonprofits are really trying to get out there and provide as many communications touchpoints as possible to their donor base just to sort of stress the fact that we’re not out of the woods yet,” he says. “The winter months are going to be really challenging.”

Next Post

New Sewickley man's wood-fire cooking makes him a hot commodity

Mon Nov 23 , 2020
No one knocks on wood when Josh Knopp comes to cook. Word around campfires at homes back of Freedom and far out as Tarentum is that Knopp knows how to cook on wood. Really well. Done all alone and designed to please, the 35-year-old New Sewickley Township man is making […]
New Sewickley man’s wood-fire cooking makes him a hot commodity

You May Like