The adversity introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly defined one of the most difficult and trying periods of our lifetime. Between tremendous loss, economic instability and widespread public health threats, life as we know it has been replaced by what most consider to be an interim “new normal.”
As we all endeavor to take monumental steps forward, the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 continue to affect multiple industries, from governmental and for-profit to nonprofit organizations, which were especially challenged by the weighty blows of this global pandemic. With 1.3 million nonprofits employing roughly 12.5 million people across the country, a Johns Hopkins University study estimates that 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost between February and May of 2020 alone. Yet, despite vulnerabilities and ongoing difficulties, nonprofit organizations have proven to be a reliable and essential support for individuals and communities by serving as a beacon to those in desperate need of vital and varied resources.
Largely due to their flexibility and the adaptability required of them even during normal times, nonprofits have still managed to provide key resources to those most vulnerable. In fact, these organizations have consistently anticipated the needs of our communities. They offer real-time assessments and ready leadership to help stage and deploy resources in response to the ever-changing circumstances we continue to experience. Their ability to operate from necessary nimble strategies fueled by very limited budgets enables them to operate between proactivity and reactivity, producing widely notable results and resources.
Nonprofits have been at the forefront of driving multi-sector collaborations that strengthen and mobilize responses during crises using “systems level” approaches that help provide immediate, near-term and long-term relief for the broader community.
In St. Louis, an example of this is the quickly mobilized Regional Response Team, a collaborative group of nonprofit, governmental, and philanthropic partners created to spearhead coordinated action in the midst of the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, this group has focused targeted response efforts (or campaigns) around distance learning and other early childhood and youth programming, personal protective equipment for vulnerable and underserved communities, basic needs resources, and employment connections. The Regional Response Team is also leveraging volunteers and using collective expertise and knowledge of communities to help individual and corporate donors understand where their dollars, volunteer efforts, and other resources, small and large, will have the greatest impact. By coming together through cross-sector collaboration, organizations on the ground with a pulse on the need have ensured a more effective and efficient response during this crisis versus a scenario where nonprofits, funders, and government agencies are working in silos.
And nonprofits are leading efforts to create long-term collaboration that will drastically change how individuals and families interact with the systems providing access, care, and resources. The St. Louis region is now in the implementation stage of one such approach, called the Greater St. Louis Community Information Exchange (CIE). With more than 40 nonprofits, health institutions, and other community organizations signed on, CIE uses a shared technology platform to allow partners to streamline efforts and maximize resources in the delivery of holistic, person-centered care. Ultimately, CIE will leverage a network of nonprofits to introduce greater efficiencies in service delivery for a client, while offering more comprehensive and available resources to help ensure a person receives the help they are seeking. Additionally, the community-level data garnered by CIE will assist funders in better aligning their strategic investments and community priorities to desired outcomes that help move individuals from crisis to stability and, in many cases, out of poverty.
With well-versed, experienced knowledge, expertise, and openness, along with a culture of agility, experimentation, risk-taking, and quick scaling to meet new degrees of need, nonprofits continue to demonstrate their essential nature as it relates to the success of local communities. They help to set the tone for a healthy, thriving community in all aspects of life. As we progress forward through the many phases and iterations of our “next normal,” it will become increasingly beneficial for businesses and community leaders to partner more closely with nonprofits as they serve as the glue for various communities. Including the perspectives of these capable and seasoned organizations within strategic planning conversations could most certainly prove game changing as we all work to better prepare for, respond to, and weather challenges on a regular basis, even within unforeseen instances of disaster or incredible community hardship. If there is a sector that has thoroughly understood ongoing needs and unique difficulties posed by the current pandemic, it is nonprofits.
COVID-19 will certainly impact our communities for an indefinite period, particularly those who are part of our most vulnerable demographics. Inviting our nonprofit partners to broader tables to help us innovate by sharing their expert perspectives and best practice approaches would ensure a safer, more stable and informed future for individuals, families, businesses, and communities. Our road ahead must be paved through collaborative planning, leveraging diverse lenses and key sector expertise to improve the overall health of our broader community. A brighter future awaits us.