As governments around the world continue easing lock-down restrictions, executives are thinking about how to help their nonprofit financials accelerate recovery post COVID-19. Rather than hunker down, it’s time for nonprofits to take 5 proactive steps to stabilize their finances, adapt to new conditions, and prepare for continued mission success.
The financial deterioration caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased community needs while simultaneously reducing charitable donations. As weeks eventually become months of stay-at-home orders and millions of jobs lost, nonprofit leaders are increasingly concerned about meeting demand for services and sustaining funding levels.
But there is some good news for nonprofits! A March 2020 donor survey by Fidelity Charitable states donors are stepping up during this time of crisis. When asked how the pandemic would impact their charitable donations, 54% of donors intend to maintain their prior giving levels and 25% plan to actually increase donations.1 Donor-advised funds were even more positive, with 59% planning to continue normal contributions and one-third planning to increase their giving this year.
1. Build team agility by adding flexibility
It will be critical to invest now in processes and infrastructure that infuse the most flexibility into your organization which leads to resilience, enabling you to move with agility to adapt to any new situation. The way to do this is to:
- Analyze your current processes, workflows and tools. Now that you’ve experienced remote work as a team, how could things work better in the future? How can you create greater engagement and empower employees? By now, you have probably noticed that working remotely requires extra clarity when it comes to defining next steps, objectives, and deliverables for your employees.
- Implementing paperless processes and cloud (SaaS) solutions now can give your team the agility to rapidly transition from the office back to remote working. With the right combination of tools and communication strategy, you can offer the option to your team to stay remote while other employees return to the office without losing productivity or collaboration capabilities. Think about all of the tools you needed as an organization, like group communication tools and file sharing, as well as the specific systems for specific functions such as financial management or human resources solutions.
“Moving to a one hundred percent work-from-home arrangement has created very limited disruption with our finance team. We still have to physically pick up the mail but with Sage Intacct we have been able to completely manage the finances of our church remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s business as usual for us. This is just another reason a cloud-based accounting system works for Seacoast.” Glenn Wood, Pastor of Administration, Seacoast Church and AcctTwo client
2. Explore government-provided stimulus options
The Federal government’s economic response to COVID-19 includes provisions for nonprofits. 501c3 organizations are eligible to participate in many of the government financial relief programs set up in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Options for nonprofits may include:
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Low-interest, fully forgivable loans of up to $10 million. For eligible organizations with fewer than 500 employees, it covers the costs of payroll and some operational expenses.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL): This program includes the availability of a $10,000 emergency advance that does not have to be repaid—essentially a grant. Organizations that qualify are supposed to be able to receive this advance within days of applying.
- Delayed payroll taxes: You can defer payment of the employer portion of your workforce’s payroll taxes during 2020 and instead opt to pay it in equal halves at the end of 2021 and 2022.
- Employee Retention Credit: The IRS authorized a refundable credit for 50% of wages paid by employers during the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, an employer must have either a) fully or partially suspended operations due to a COVID-19 shut-down order or b) gross receipts declined more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the prior year.
- Economic Stabilization Fund: : Loans and loan guarantees can be made available to mid-sized and large nonprofit organizations (500 to 10,000 employees) that do not qualify for small business programs. These loans would be made at an interest rate no higher than 2% but would require that 90% or more of the workforce be retained until September 30, 2020.
3. Reach out to donors to stay top of mind
Now more than ever, you will need to keep existing donors enthusiastic about your mission and try to re-engage previous donors that may have gone dormant in their giving. To inspire your donors, you need to deploy every strategy in your toolkit to tell your organization’s story in a clear, powerful, and compelling way. Use your website, social media, email campaigns, direct mail and telephone engagement to amplify your message. Add credibility to your story by backing up your mission with the financial and operational metrics that demonstrate your organization’s impact.
As you update past and present donors about your mission, educate them about this opportunity to help your cause while reducing their tax burden. Tell donors about three new, limited-time, tax deduction bonuses in your next donor communication—the CARES Act provides for:
- $300 for non-itemizers: a one-time, above-the-line deduction up to $300 made to qualifying charities.
- Unlimited donations for itemizers: For individual taxpayers who itemize deductions, the IRS suspended the limit on deductible contributions for 2020, so they can give as much as they like and itemize all of it.
- Double donation limit for corporations: The limit on deductions for corporate charitable contributions has been raised from 10% to 20% of AGI for the 2020 tax year.
Storytelling has always been a critical component for nonprofit donor engagement, but right now you will need to do more to overcome news overload. Now is the time to take your storytelling to the next level. It’s important to be sensitive. In a recent survey of national advertisers, 89% of marketers said they continue to adjust their messaging in view of the current environment.2 Nonprofit organizations need to relate messaging to current events, convey a sense of being “in this together,” and demonstrate how they are helping others right now.
4. Assess your financial situation and adjust
Every nonprofit organization will face difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead. The economic road back from COVID-19 will not be as quick or easy as we would like. The good news is nonprofit organizations have weathered many economic storms previously and history shows charitable giving usually recovers more quickly than the overall economy. According to a recent analysis of nonprofit performance during the last recession, Nonprofit Quarterly noted, “according to the hard data, nonprofits are excellent and highly adaptive managers when it comes to running complex organizations, even in financial downturns.”3
To recover faster, use every financial analysis tool and report available to help your team find the path forward, including:
- Scrutinize every expense to see where you could reduce expenses.
- Talk to vendors about renegotiating contracts and moving to an automated ACH payment process to take advantage of discounts and lower overhead supporting check writing.
- Analyze your mixture of full- and part-time employees and see where you might be able to use more volunteers.
“It's no surprise that finance teams are starting with the eminently practical urgency of cash flow management and redoing budgets. But this puts the focus on the tools in use - especially given the remote work imperative. If there's one thing this pandemic has underscored, it's the value of trusted - and remotely accessible - financial and planning systems. Paper-based processes and re-circulated spreadsheets were already problematic. When the office itself is off limits, they are soul-grinders.” Jon Reed, Co-Founder, Diginomica4
5. Collaborate and get creative to stay focused on your outcomes
After you’ve taken stock of your financial picture, get creative in continuing your mission. Get the staff (and perhaps major donors) brainstorming about better ways to deliver programs. Reimagine some of your services. Explore new ways to fundraise without being face-to-face. Talk to other organizations—could collaboration help you drive better results with scarcer resources?
“There is also a significant amount of collaboration, hope, and ingenuity coming out of the sector right now. With organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children staying connected to their core missions and showing up for those in their care, no matter what, an important metric for success is being seen in the field: unconditional love.” Alyssa Wright, Contributor, Forbes5
Nonprofit executives have faced tough financial situations before and emerged stronger, more creative, and with a greater mission focus. As you now work to protect employees, apply for stimulus programs, increase donor engagement, and determine the best path forward, AcctTwo and Sage Intacct stand ready to support you with people, tools, and extended resources to help you analyze financial performance. Engage your donors with nonprofit storytelling that employs images, outcomes metrics, and financial performance data to earn donor trust and contributions.
1 Fidelity Charitable, “COVID-19 and philanthropy: How donor behaviors are shifting amid pandemic,” 2020.
2 The Nonprofit Times, “Marketers Adjusting to COVID-19 Using Creative Messages,” April 6, 2020.
3 Nonprofit Quarterly, “Nonprofits in Recession: Winners and Losers,” March 19, 2020.
4 Diginomica, “How Has Coronavirus Changed Business Spending – and When Will the New Normal Get Here?,” April 29, 2020
5 Forbes, Three Reminders for Nonprofit Leaders During COVID-19, April 7, 2020