Photo courtesy of Long Island Cares
Your news feed in 2020 was filled with news about rising infection rates, death tolls, job losses, and other depressing and gloomy information. Yet, in a world that seems engulfed in fear and steeped in tragedy, there is so much good happening as well. For every dark cloud, there is usually a silver lining. At Phillips Charitable Foundation, we found that silver lining in our email inbox every day. We received daily news from grantees who endured, sacrificed, and persevered throughout 2020. In the face of adversity it is amazing what the human heart and hands can accomplish.
With 2020 thankfully at an end, we decided to look back and highlight some of the innovative, heartwarming, and heroic efforts we noted from our grantees.
LEAPING INTO THE VIRTUAL WORLD
In normal times, major changes are often difficult to accomplish in an organization, especially if it is well established. However, COVID was all the motivation many of our grantees needed. The choice was shut down, maybe permanently, or adapt. Leaping into the virtual world was one such required adaptation. We saw grantee after grantee doing this quickly and successfully. Services, conferences, meetings and more moved online in record time.
Photo courtesy of The Light House
Many of our grantees conduct workforce development training. In a time when countless people were losing jobs, these training programs became even more important. Rather than stopping, our grantees reacted quickly and kept the courses going. The Light House, The Arc Baltimore, The Woodlands, The Watson Institute, Byte Back, and more all had online training started early in the pandemic. Not only did courses and programs have to be adapted to an online environment, but in most cases, students had to be provided with laptops or tablets. This was a major additional expense.
All of our school grantees also reacted quickly. From K12 schools through universities, teachers had to quickly learn their school’s online learning platform and begin teaching online with only two weeks notice.
We read newsletters and emails from our grantees about replacing in-person meetings with Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings. Even conferences and fundraising moved online in many creative ways. COVID may even have forced some changes that will become permanent. Although not ideal, we’ve all realized that not all services and meetings need to be in person. It was impressive to watch these efforts. Our grantees, like many nonprofit staff around the country, did whatever it would take to keep the mission and purpose going.
MAJOR OPERATIONAL CHANGES
2020 brought countless adjustments to business operations. Ensuring safety was and continues to be of top importance. Our grantees as well as all nonprofits were scrambling to develop new protocols and reinvent how they do just about everything. Lockdowns, social distancing guidelines, face masks, working from home, and other protective measures all required new policies and procedures.
Imagine if your mission includes finding good homes for homeless animals, yet you have to close to the public. That’s what animal shelters such as Paws Crossed in New York had to work around. Adoption procedures completely changed. All adoptions now have to be done by appointment only and only for approved applicants. In the midst of this, Paws Crossed saw a tremendous increase in their Community Kibble program. Free pet food and supplies are offered to needy pet parents. They did all of this and more with far fewer volunteers.
We also learned about major operational changes at Bello Machre as visitor policies, overnight travel policies and more were quickly changed to keep everyone safe. Long Island Cares revised all volunteer policies and more. Hope for All revised all donation procedures and other operational protocols. In fact, we are not aware of a single grantee that hasn’t had to change operational procedures quickly in response to this pandemic.
Variety Pittsburgh also showed their resilience and quick response to needed operational changes. Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety Pittsburgh said “the pandemic challenged the Variety team to reinvent the way we do everything, including our processes, outreach, identification of kids, fundraising, presenting equipment and more."
CONTINUING TO SERVE
Charitable organizations are a critical part of the social safety net in the United States. Services are provided to vulnerable populations that fall through the gaps in government programs. COVID has brought even greater needs for these services. The most heroic efforts we learned about from our grantees were related to the determination and dedication to continue providing services despite every conceivable challenge.
Food banks, soup kitchens, and emergency food pantries were some of the hardest hit nonprofits. Donations couldn’t keep pace with the need, volunteers stayed away, funding plummeted, and the need for food was greater than ever. Mile long lines for food were just heartbreaking. Long Island Cares was dealing with a 43.2% increase in food insecurity in their region when compared to 2019. They also reported that the number of people accessing Long Island Cares’ five community-based satellite locations increased by over 89% over last year.
End Hunger of Calvert County also reported skyrocketing needs for food. In the midst of this they partnered with other organizations to solve a new problem. The children in Calvert County schools who receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch were no longer receiving this nourishment. Volunteers, including school aged children, gathered at the organization’s warehouse to package nonperishable food to distribute to fellow students who were not getting their daily meals.
The Light House in Annapolis Maryland projected that they would serve 30% more clients than in a typical year. The Center of Help dramatically ramped up its activities by purchasing and delivering food to clients who were infected by the virus and needed to stay at home. Angela’s House staff couldn’t personally visit their families but they did manage to help 100 of their children feel special on their birthday. They brought birthday parties to front yards, including birthday parades, balloons, cakes, lawn signs, and more. Hope for All provided desks to families in need who now had children doing school from home. Variety Pittsburgh continued to delivery adaptive bikes, strollers, and communication equipment. In fact, they delivered more equipment in their fiscal year ending September 31, 2020 than they had ever distributed in one year. That’s impressive!
As if COVID wasn’t enough, Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater Maryland also had a tornado touch down and wreak havoc on their property. Yet they persevered. With new protocols and procedures, innovative outdoor programing was offered. They continued to plan for their new education pavilion and for renovations to a historical building on their property. They also remained open for outdoor strolls through their garden, a wonderful thing to do during the crazy days of COVID.
CREATIVE FUNDRAISING AMIDST COST CUTTING EFFORTS
Nonprofits had to cancel fundraising events, shut down conferences that produce a large portion of their annual revenue, and terminate other revenue-producing programs and activities. As expected, donations greatly declined. Tim Delaney, president and chief executive of the National Council of Nonprofits, stated that “People who used to donate to nonprofits are now standing in line to receive services, which tells you while demand is soaring the resources are plummeting.” To add to this, nonprofits already running on a shoestring budget had to buy protective gear, laptops, tablets and more for the sudden shift to the COVID world. Despite this grim set of circumstances, we noted many successful and creative fundraising efforts from grantees that refused to give in.
Bello Machre managed to hold their 36th Annual Golf Tournament. Social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer didn’t stop the generosity of their supporters. Creative and persistent fundraising led to Long Island Cares being able to provide a record-breaking 14,788,703 meals. The Woodlands held two successful Giving Tuesdays and also received a matching grant that motivated significant donations. Angela’s House held a virtual 3K walk, Facebook fundraisers and managed to safely open back up their new Angela’s House Home Store. We saw story after story of heroic efforts by our grantees to remain viable, with hopes of thriving again when some sort of new normal sets in.
We want to express our admiration and gratitude to our grantees and all nonprofit staff who have persevered through this year. You’ve been on the front line, adapting, sacrificing, and serving. We have noted your tremendous courage and compassion. We at Phillips Charitable Foundation are proud to help support your heroic efforts.