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Nonprofits have faced decreased donations during the pandemic

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“Messages of Hope to Survivors of Sexual Assault†on display at the Whatcom County Courthouse in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As another consequence of COVID-19, survivor support agencies have seen a decrease in services and access to survivor resources. // Photo courtesy of Nicole Berman.

Nicole Berman, the executive director at Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, has difficult choices ahead. For a few months in the early pandemic, the nonprofit ceased asking for donations because of economic insecurity and the cancellation of events Berman said. They estimated DVSAS lost 70% to 75% of the nonprofit’s donations.

DVSAS, like many local nonprofits, has had to shift its operation and fundraising plans amid unpredictable circumstances in the pandemic. In-person events designed to boost revenue and build relationships vanished from the calendar, replaced by costly online fundraisers and services.

The Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth also lost a significant amount of funds once collected through ticket and concession sales, said Development Director Mikyn Sygitowicz. However, she said that state grants, donations, mutual support in the local arts community and reduced rent have allowed the academy to continue its mission.

For some, switching to online-only services meant new and additional expenditures. Costs doubled for the Whatcom Family Community Network, said Executive Director Kristi Slette. Slette said they had to pay for studio time, camera operators and photographers in order to reach the public virtually and host events. 

Cheryl Crooks, executive director of CASCADIA International Women's Film Festival, said “The plus side is that we can have a lot more people attend the festival than we might otherwise.” Moving the event online allowed for more participation as people could attend from home. Nevertheless, the loss of sponsors, grants and donations made it a difficult year for them, Crooks said.

Other nonprofits have been luckier, despite the inability to host in-person fundraisers. Some nonprofits associated with conservation have been benefiting from the relative safety of outdoor, socially distant activities. 

Katie Johnson, outreach coordinator at Lummi Island Heritage Trust, said that as a land conservation nonprofit, they did not significantly suffer financially, as visitors looked to escape their homes and connect to nature. “But this year might be a little different, with people transitioning back to work and more vaccines, there might be a little less heart towards the land, because they're not at home, they're not looking for little escapes out their backyard and into the woods,” Johnson said.

Many contributors have experienced “donor fatigue,” according to Loran Zenonian, director of advancement at Lighthouse Mission Ministries — a private nonprofit in Bellingham that works with the unhoused population. 

Zenonian said the mission initially had a good response from donors, but the fact that donors might be supporting numerous causes during the current financial crisis could prevent them from donating as generously as they did back in the pre-COVID days.  

There are other barriers for would-be donors. Maniac Coffee Roasting devotes a portion of one of its blend’s profits to charity, co-owner Alex Mastema said. Mastema said for most of 2020 the cafe had to stop production and sales of the Home is Where the Heart Is blend, which was sold to restaurants and cafes and supported housing nonprofits. 

“With a lot of [the restaurants] being shut down, or with extremely reduced hours, our margins were really freaking tight,” he said, and the roastery could not afford to sell something they could not make a profit on.  

With less money from donations, nonprofits have had to look for other resources. Federal, state and local grants have served as important support for these organizations. Many local organizations applied to the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan that turns into a grant when nonprofits maintain their staff members and at least 60% of the loan is spent on payroll costs, according to federal data made searchable through a ProPublica database of PPP recipients.

Common Threads Farm, for example, partnered with the WA COVID Response Corps, a program that combines federal and state resources with private philanthropy. Executive Director Laura Plaut said that the program and the other grants they applied to have allowed them to keep supporting schools with their food education programs, even though school districts could no longer afford to invest in them.

Common Threads Farm also received support from the Resilience Fund, awarded by the Whatcom Community Foundation. The $2.5 million fund was created as a result of community contributions and the statewide fund All In WA to address “the short (relief) and long-term (recovery) needs,”  the foundation’s President Mauri Ingram wrote in an email.

Marie Groark, director of programs at the Schultz Family Foundation — which co-developed the WA COVID Response Corps — said that food insecurity has increased by 1.5 to 2 times in Washington state and is expected to remain for the next six to 12 months. Groark expects that families will be financially impacted by the pandemic for a while, increasing the risk of food insecurity.

Other nonprofit executives agreed that the financial effects of the pandemic are expected to linger.

“I think that we will require additional funding for certain services, because we will be dealing with the impact of COVID for a long time,” said Slette, of the Whatcom Family Community Network. She called the pandemic a “community trauma” on people’s physical and mental health, which she believes could lead to increased substance abuse. “We anticipate in our work, that the pandemic as a community trauma will have changed us. And therefore, after the pandemic, we will have to change and adapt to meet the needs and find solutions.”

Many of the nonprofits The Front has spoken with said they are grateful for the support that allows them to survive and provide basic services. 

“To me, it just really fuels my faith in humanity, and that even when people are hurting, they're still thinking of others,” Zenonian from Lighthouse Mission said.

Luisa Loi is an environmental reporter for The Front majoring in News/Editorial. Her work focuses on findings, developments and issues concerning the environment. You can contact her at luisaloi.thefront@gmail.com.

The organizations we spoke to have ongoing fundraising efforts. You can find them here:


Luisa Loi

Luisa Loi is an environmental reporter for The Front majoring in News/Editorial. Her work focuses on findings, developments and issues concerning the environment. You can contact her at luisaloi.thefront@gmail.com.


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