Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the work of nonprofits has never been more in peril. According to GuideStar, less than half of nonprofits maintain one month of operating reserves. As donations dry up, many organizations are facing difficult decisions: whether to cut programs, lay off staff, or shut their doors entirely.

At the same time, the work of these nonprofits has never been more important. COVID-19 does not discriminate about whom it infects, but communities of differing means have vastly different capacities to respond to the fallout. Lower-income communities where more people work in service industries suffer from higher rates of un- and under-employment. In communities with less access to technology, “remote learning” becomes nearly impossible. If the nonprofits that serve these communities shut down, we worry that those most in need will fall even further behind.

Since well before this crisis began, our partners have been laser focused on the needs of kids. These nonprofits work hard to ensure that kids can build critical SEL skills and healthy relationships with technology. As our nation’s children transition to online learning—potentially for months—the work of these nonprofits will help them succeed.

We’re determined to help our partners continue to serve youth as they navigate this challenging time. After speaking to our partners, other funders, and leaders in the youth development field, we’ve learned a lot about what nonprofits need right now—and made three commitments to support them through this crisis.

What we have learned:

  • All of SCE’s direct service partners have paused their programming. Most are grappling with maintaining relationships with young people while also addressing the mental and physical well-being of program participants and staff. While some are able to transition to virtual programming, the online version of their work looks dramatically different than “business as usual.”
  • Donations have slowed to a trickle, galas have been canceled, and endowments are taking a huge hit. Nonprofits are uncertain about when a government-funded recovery package will arrive. In these uncertain times, they are focusing on feeding kids, keeping kids safe, prioritizing kids’ mental health, and supporting staff.
  • Foundations are adapting to the changing landscape by transitioning restricted program funding to general operating support, providing seed funding for pilot virtual programs, and contributing to local emergency response funds (such as this one for Chicago). 
  • We all need to be thinking about immediate, near-term, and long-term responses. While both nonprofits and foundations must evolve rapidly to respond to the immediate impacts of this crisis, we also must prepare for long-term economic impacts and potential changes to our education system. 

Our commitments:

  • We will share best practices. We will continue to collect and share resources for kids, families, educators, and program providers adapting to a virtual learning environment. We are compiling the resources we’ve found on this blog post, and will share them on Facebook and Twitter on an ongoing basis.
  • We will help nonprofits transition to virtual support and programming. We encourage our current and future partners to develop online programs and research best practices in virtual learning. We will support them as they implement virtual experiences, expand access to technology for their constituents, offer online professional development for their staff, and shift to remote work.
  • We will continue to listen. Conversations with current and potential partners, other funders, and experts in youth development led directly to these shifts in our strategy. The only way we will weather this storm is by listening, learning, and working together. 

Today, we face one of the greatest challenges we have seen in generations. But this unprecedented crisis offers us glimpses of a possible future—a future where remote work is commonplace, where technology facilitates connection, and where well-developed social and emotional skills matter more than ever. By working together, we can help nonprofits and the youth they serve to survive the present and prepare for the future. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash