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Coronavirus leaves Tampa Bay nonprofits hurting for funds

72 percent of nonprofits in the area have had to cancel major fundraising events due to COVID-19.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofit organizations across the Tampa Bay area have canceled major fundraising events. [Photo courtesy of The Spring of Tampa Bay]
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofit organizations across the Tampa Bay area have canceled major fundraising events. [Photo courtesy of The Spring of Tampa Bay]
Published Apr. 6, 2020
Updated Apr. 6, 2020

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, typically a big fundraising month for Champions for Children, a nonprofit organization focused on child abuse prevention.

But in the wake of COVID-19, the organization has found itself in a plight similar to what nonprofit organizations across the Tampa Bay region are facing: an increased need to provide services and pinched funds.

The Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay sent out a survey last week to nonprofit leaders, trying to gauge the impact of COVID-19. More than 100 replied, and 72 percent said they had to cancel or expect to cancel major fundraising events. Ninety-two percent expect to have a negative financial outlook or budget impact.

“Their need is increasing, while nonprofits are scurrying to provide resources,” said Emily Benham, CEO for the Nonprofit Leadership Center, which serves the five counties around Tampa Bay.

Typically, Champions for Children hosts two of its main fundraising events in April. Due to COVID-19, one has been postponed until the fall, and the other was canceled. That luncheon typically brought in $140,000 of flexible revenue —one of the most important types of revenue for a nonprofit, Jonathan Goodman, director of development said.

Flexible revenue, he said, comes without some of the strings attached to other sources. It allows the organization to spend in places they may not have anticipated needing to spend —and at times for essentials, like literally keeping the lights on, he said. Instead, they’ve started an online fundraising campaign through the month of April, with donations of $500 or more matched by five private donors who have pledged to match up to a total of $25,000.

They expect child abuse and neglect rates to rise during the pandemic, as stressors rise and children are in isolation, and their services to be in increased demand.

“We are financially stable, we’re not going anywhere, but it’s still a big deal,” Goodman said. “With the extraordinary uncertainty with how long this is going to go on, I’m expecting this is going to be a hard year for philanthropy.”

Through the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, nonprofits are eligible for some relief. The biggest component, Benham said, is the payroll protection act, which allows a loan to potentially turn into a grant for nonprofits to keep their employees paid. The Nonprofit Leadership Center has been hosting webinars and offers tips on their website for nonprofits to navigate the act and other COVID-19 response strategies.

The federal relief buys some time, said Mindy Murphy, CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence nonprofit and shelter. The Spring also had to postpone their major fundraiser of the year due to coronavirus. They were expecting to bring in around $125,000 from this year’s Handbags & Happy Hour event.

Murphy is worried that, even after the immediate crisis is over, donors will also be strapped for cash. Currently, she said, they receive about 40 percent of their funding from private donors.

“We can’t function effectively without 40 percent of our dollars, and now more than ever,” she said. “The stories we’re seeing from countries ahead of us: the things that keep you safe from COVID-19 are the things that put you more at risk for domestic violence and decrease your options for safety.”

The Spring is taking in-kind donations and also seeking donations of basic supplies: masks, wipes, Lysol. While she said she understands the need to support other nonprofits with limited dollars, Murphy worries they might be in competition for limited funds.

“There’s not a nonprofit out there that does this work in a silo,” she said. “We all need each other. Each nonprofit has a comprehensive safety net of services. It’s really important that people realize how critical all nonprofit services are.”

Goodman said he too worries about the future.

“Even if the total amount of dollars remains the same, a lot of people who give their donations in different places, people may pivot toward food or shelter, and I don't want to undermine that,” he said. “We think our mission is always important, but we think especially during this crisis our services are really, really important. We think it’s important to support families during this crisis and not after this crisis.”

Nonprofits for the arts, Benham said, face a unique set of challenges.

The Temple Terrace Arts Council also had to cancel its main fundraiser for the year that was expected to bring in around $10,000 that funds its annual two-day arts festival.

“To us, that’s a lot of money,” said Kim Straub, vice president of marketing and special products at the Arts Council. “If we can figure out a way to do the festival, it will cut back on other things we’re able to do in the community.”

They’re accepting in-kind donations and allowing people to donate their already purchased ticket. They’re also seeking volunteers to help create databases to stay in touch with funders.

“A lot of us have to rethink our whole business model and way of communicating,” she said. “A lot of people are going to be tapped out because of this whole staying at home and not being able to work. Everybody is going to be going after the same people in this small community we have. We have to be creative about ways we can do things differently in ways that would be less expensive, more interesting and also help us achieve our goals.”

Jill Witecki, director of marketing at the Tampa Theatre, said the theater is fortunate to have had two record breaking years and held two of their fundraising events earlier in February.

Still, she said, it’s not a bottomless reserve. The theater canceled events that so far she estimates would have resulted in thousands of tickets sold.

“When your whole business is built on groups of people sitting together in tight quarters, there was no question we’d have to close,” she said.

The theatre is still selling gift cards and memberships online that start when the theatre reopens and have partnered with independent cinema distributors, such as Kino Lorber and Magnolia Pictures, that are releasing films to be streamed exclusively through arthouse theaters. The profit, Witecki said, is split similar to how a traditional ticket sale would be between the distributor and theatre.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” she said. “We still think the best way to see a movie is a communal experience. But we’re figuring it out. The response has been good but we’re really hoping that will translate to actual tickets. We don’t know if it will be two or 200.”

Witecki said she’s confident the theatre will survive.

“We’ve been there on Franklin Street for 93-plus years,” she said. “Tampa Theatre in that time has seen Tampa and the country go through some ups and downs. We were there through World War II and the Great Depression, and every time we’ve rebounded. We were all but closed and demolished in the 70s, and we rebounded.”

Benham said nonprofits’ ability to rebound is based on their creativity to navigate uncertain territory.

“There is great hope and great resilience here, but there is great fragility here, too,” she said. “But that’s the nature of our work. We tackle in the nonprofit sector some of the most difficult issues in society and we do it with the hope that it helps someone.”

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