Monday, May 11, 2020
Writing in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy, Susan N. Dreyfus and John MacIntosh opine that during the current COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, many medium-sized nonprofit organizations will not survive unless the federal government provides them more much-needed support. Dreyfus is CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities; MacIntosh is managing partner of SeaChange Capital Partners, an organization that helps nonprofits facing complex financial challenges. In their thought-provoking article in today's Chronicle, they argue that while
[n]onprofits of all kinds provide critical help to communities across the United States, . . . it is the medium-sized ones that make a critical difference — those with at least 500 employees. Their workers operate food pantries, and homeless and domestic-violence shelters. They manage and staff residential facilities for young people with mental illnesses. They offer in-home and residential services for older Americans and people with disabilities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, their work is more urgent than ever.
Yet, the authors state, even as these organizations face various challenges -- challenges as daunting as those faced by their smaller counterparts -- they "are not receiving the government support they need to survive." For example, the "federal Paycheck Protection Program excludes nonprofits with more that 500 employees from obtaining the forgivable loans that would allow them to retain and compensate their employees and continue to deliver essential services during this public-health crisis."
What, then, can we do? As the article points out, at "a time when many nonprofits are at a breaking point, we [cannot] afford to leave those with more than 500 employees out of support programs that are keeping smaller organizations afloat."
According to the article,
A new analysis of New York City’s larger nonprofits found that under normal circumstances, most have just two weeks of cash on hand. Without immediate assistance, the report projects that some won’t survive through May and that few, if any, will be in a position to continue services during the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath. Most of these organizations lack meaningful endowments and have limited access to credit. Their operating margins are razor thin (an average of 1 percent), even before taking into account the reduction in revenue and increase in expenses associated with the pandemic. Most importantly, their philanthropy, which covers less than 5 percent of expenses, cannot make up for a reduction in funding and contracts during the health crisis.
The article continues:
This situation is not unique to New York. A 2018 report on the financial stability of community-based human-services organizations found that 40 percent of the larger nonprofits had less than one month of cash reserves. Those providing housing and shelter-related services faced significantly greater financial stress.
Critics may be quick to argue that the challenges confronting these nonprofits are the result of their own inefficiency and poor management. Not so, argue Dreyfus and MacIntosh. They specifically state that:
The challenges confronting these nonprofits are not the result of inefficiency or poor management. Most government funding and philanthropy traditionally does not cover the full cost of providing services. Government contracts for essential services also create cash-flow problems since, unlike with grants, payments are not made until after the work is completed and can be subject to long and unpredictable delays. Cash, as a consequence, is an ongoing issue. But unlike large for-profits, these organizations do not have access to capital markets, cannot easily unlock illiquid assets, and are unable to use bankruptcy to restructure while continuing to deliver services. Any increase in costs, reduction in revenue, or delay in cash receipts could put some of them permanently over the edge.
So just what is the solution? The authors call for Congressional action: