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Trends in Post-Pandemic Philanthropy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Brittany Keegan
July 31, 2023

In March 2021, nearly one year to the date the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, nearly one-third of nonprofits in the United States were at risk of shutting down. For some of these nonprofits, donations had seen a drastic decrease and programs were put on hold or stopped altogether. Nonprofits operating in the fields of arts and entertainment were hit especially hard, as support was frequently redirected toward health and human service organizations. Conversely, nonprofits working in those health and human services fields were seeing increases in donations and support while also seeing increases in demand.

Now, nearly three and a half years since the global health emergency declaration, how are nonprofits faring? Do the fundraising disparities that existed during the pandemic still exist today? How have programs and the nonprofit workplace changed? What could still put a nonprofit at risk, and what can help them thrive?

During the height of the pandemic, data indicate that donations to nonprofits saw an overall decrease (a 5.6 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022), as well as a decrease in donor retention. A survey from CAF America found that this reduction in donations was the top concern of nonprofits during this time, followed by travel restrictions, increased costs overall and maintaining connections with the nonprofit’s beneficiaries.

However, today we are starting to see a rebound. Data gathered in 2022 by Nonprofit Finance Fund found that about 71 percent of nonprofits reported higher levels of funding than they received in 2019, while 20 percent saw lower levels of funding, and about eight percent said that their funding levels remained the same. Half of survey participants represented nonprofits working in the fields of human services and community/economic development. Twelve percent were from arts and culture organizations.

From an operations standpoint, the data gathered in 2022 by Nonprofit Finance Fund also indicate that that 88 percent of nonprofits have changed the way they operate in the years since the pandemic began, and 51 percent believe that these changes will be permanent. These changes include remote working (including internal work and external interactions with board members, donors and other stakeholders), revised programming (including virtual program offerings or altered schedules) and even changes in services offered as the needs of the community change. At the same time, 71 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their services, though only 53 percent said that they felt confident in being able to meet this increased demand.

Thus, maintaining a strong nonprofit workforce is key in meeting this demand and providing quality services. During and after the pandemic, many private sector organizations faced the “great resignation,” in which large amounts of workers quit their jobs and/or changed their careers. This took place for a variety of reasons, including the need for greater pay, better work/life balance and/or a desire to do more personally meaningful work.

In the nonprofit sector, concerns over pay and work/life balance were also prevalent. In a field that had traditionally paid relatively lower amounts than the private and public sectors, and that often placed a focus on the work being its own reward, employees began to question if this type of work was really their best option. Increased demand of services for many nonprofits during the pandemic also led to burnout. As one CEO stated, “people are both psychologically and physically exhausted. I think there’s a toll to that.”

In addition to paid staff, the ways in which people are volunteering are also shifting, with a 2021 Gallup Poll showing that 56 percent of people volunteered their time at some point that year, compared to 64 percent in 2017 and 58 percent in 2020.

Now, nonprofits are tasked with striking a balance. Their work is still very much needed and, although there have been staffing losses and changes in volunteering and giving patterns, nonprofits are also finding ways to adapt. For some organizations this means finding ways to show staff and volunteers that they are valued, such as providing increased pay and medical benefits for staff and personalized thank you messages and invitations to special events for volunteers. Other nonprofits are rebranding, modifying existing services, offering new services and generally changing the ways in which they interact with their communities.

People and priorities have changed over the past three and a half years, and successful nonprofits are meeting those changes head-on. By understanding current trends in nonprofit operations and fundraising, adapting to new needs and new virtual options and planning for inevitable future changes, nonprofits are likely to find success in the new landscape.

Author: Brittany Keegan, Ph.D. is the director of research promotion and engagement at the VCU Wilder School’s Office of Research and Outreach. She is a qualitative researcher who focuses on social equity, public policy polling, and nonprofit organizations. Twitter: @BritKeegan

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