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How the Pandemic is Impacting Nonprofits

6 min read • Apr 27, 2020 • Derek Miller

The coronavirus has taken millions of jobs and closed thousands of US businesses in just the first few weeks of the pandemic. Society is doing its best to flatten the curve, but it’s at the expense of our economy.

While the entire US market is facing a downturn unlike anything many of us have ever seen, there’s one sector that’s arguably suffering the worst—nonprofits. 

Charitable organizations are vital to communities because they offer physical, mental, and other support to the underserved. During extreme hardships like we’re facing now, these people require the most help—meaning we need nonprofits now more than ever.

Unfortunately, like small businesses, many nonprofits are facing unprecedented challenges as they try to endure the pandemic while continuing to support their causes. Here are some ways the coronavirus is impacting the nonprofit sector.

Many Nonprofits Rely on Ticket Sales

Many nonprofits use daily ticket sales to drive revenue. Theatres and arts organizations, museums, learning centers, zoos, and aquariums all rely on a steady stream of patrons to visit every day, purchase items from the gift shop, and buy food from their vendors. However, these nonprofits aren’t considered essential and must close their doors.

These types of nonprofits suffer greatly by being closed. While zoos and aquariums can keep a skeleton crew on staff to care for the animals, the lost revenue can limit the quality of life for those animals now and moving forward.

Other nonprofits like theatres and museums must close completely. Without ticket sales, the staff cannot work and must look for financial relief in other ways, such as filing for unemployment. 

The immediate impact of the coronavirus on nonprofits that rely on ticket sales is short-term closures, layoffs, and lost revenue, but it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw long-term effects with these nonprofits closing their doors for good—which would have a profound effect on communities throughout the country.

Fundraising Events Are Canceled

While ticket sales provide a steady stream of donations, some nonprofits raise money by hosting events, like galas, parties, 5k runs, and carnivals. In fact, Eventbrite surveyed more than 500 nonprofits and found 78% of nonprofits host events to promote their causes. 

These events raise awareness, but they also bring in money—especially from major sponsors and big-name donors. With social distancing guidelines, these have been delayed or canceled entirely.

A canceled event can wipe out a nonprofit’s fundraising goals and limit its projects and reach for the year. Not to mention the lost time, money, and other resources invested in planning those events that cannot be recouped.

People Aren’t Thinking About Donating Right Now

Without ticket sales and events, nonprofits are trying to collect online donations and small gifts from patrons. Naturally, people are more concerned with their health and finances than they are with the welfare of others, leading to fewer donations.

The CARES Act offers a silver lining to nonprofits with its provisions regarding charitable contributions.

“The CARES Act incentivizes donations through tax breaks, and nonprofits need to make sure to communicate that clearly to donors large and small,” says Karl Swan, tax manager at Rivero, Gordimer & Company.

He goes on to say that “people who take standard deductions can also claim up to $300 for cash donations made this year.”

The CARES Act outlines several other changes to charitable contributions for 2020 and beyond. While the government aid and tax breaks will help, nonprofits should still expect a reduction in contributions.

It will probably be years before the US economy has rebounded financially from the coronavirus, which means nonprofits relying on donors will face a tough road ahead.

Volunteers Can’t Interact With People

A big part of nonprofit support comes from volunteers. They go into the community and represent the nonprofit to support residents and raise awareness for the cause. However, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and fears about COVID-19 have severely limited volunteers.

How can you register people to vote when no one is on the street? How can you pass around a petition while staying 6 feet away? 

It’s hard to predict how quickly volunteering will pick up once we’re through the worst of the coronavirus, but the bigger concern is how badly these nonprofits will suffer now from losing their most important resources.

Demand Is Too High

Many nonprofits still operating during the COVID-19 are facing new challenges from increased demand with fewer resources.

The San Antonio Food Bank set a record recently by feeding roughly 10,000 families in one day. The images of endless rows of cars waiting for support shocked Texas residents. CEO Eric Cooper reported that it was the largest single-day distribution in the nonprofit’s 40-year history.

Food banks have become overwhelmed by demand, even as their supply chains from grocery stores dry up. Medical service providers are also experiencing unprecedented demand and exhausted staff members. 

Nonprofits are trying to help as many people as they can, but there aren’t enough resources or hours in the day. 

There Is Hope for Nonprofits

It may seem bleak for nonprofits right now, but there is hope. 

Many celebrities are stepping in to help organizations that are overwhelmed. Tom Brady, who recently moved to the Tampa Bay Area with his wife Gisele Bündchen to play for the Buccaneers football team, donated 750,000 meals through Feeding Tampa Bay. 

Celebrities aren’t the only ones stepping up in their communities. Local restaurants are creating meals for first responders and people in need. Digital marketing and other online businesses are providing relief and offering their services to people and businesses in need.

Nonprofits that want to stay operational during this time can. Some are hosting digital fundraisers through Facebook Live and Zoom. Others are creating meetups and providing educational resources for kids who are out of school. These efforts work to raise awareness about the organization and bring a ray of light to the pandemic. 

Two great examples of organizations doing great work online are the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the Georgia Aquarium. The Shedd Aquarium regularly shares video content of its rockhopper penguins exploring the exhibits, seeing fish, and meeting beluga whales. 

The Georgia Aquarium took this a step further by partnering with the Atlanta Humane Society. Their videos feature curious kittens and energy-filled puppies making fishy friends and exploring the different aquarium rooms. These videos help raise awareness about the aquarium while getting the kittens and puppies adopted. 

We Can All Help

Now—and in the coming months—communities need nonprofits more than ever to support the underserved and help pull our society out of the devastation caused by the coronavirus. Nonprofits are facing hard times and will have a difficult road ahead, but we can all do a little to help.

Even if you’re not donating or volunteering, you can still support your favorite nonprofit during the coronavirus by simply engaging with their content and sharing their stories and causes on social media. This simple action can increase their exposure and help them reach other people who can donate or volunteer in the future.


Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy,, and StartupCamp.