The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the need for nonprofit services. Although some nonprofit organizations have been forced to suspend operations to comply with stay-at-home orders, others provide essential services that are critically needed right now. For these organizations, there are many new challenges.
Determining What’s Essential
Under state-issued stay-at-home orders, people are only supposed to leave their homes for essential activities. Whether a nonprofit is considered essential will depend on the services it provides.
In California, the list of essential workers is long, and it includes many workers in the healthcare sector. Caregivers, behavioral health workers, and workers at blood banks are all among those labeled essential. Food banks are also labeled essential – and they may be more essential than ever. Food bank demand has surged as people struggle with school closures and unemployment because of coronavirus.
Nonprofit organizations should check with their state, county, and city to determine whether they are considered essential under relevant stay-at-home orders.
Volunteer and Funding Shortages
As many nonprofits continue to do their best to provide essential services to their communities, they may struggle with volunteer and funding shortages.
People who normally volunteer may need to stay home because they are sick or because they have been exposed to COVID-19 and are under strict quarantine. Other people, including many older individuals, may choose to stay home because they are afraid of contracting the virus.
This has created problems for food banks and other nonprofit organizations experiencing increased demand. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Governor Newsom called in the National Guard to help at some food banks in the state. The Los Angeles Times reports that one food bank had to hire part-time employees to do the work previously done by volunteers.
Funding is another issue. Many people have lost their income due to coronavirus shutdowns, meaning they have less to donate. Fundraising efforts are also being hampered by stay-at-home orders. According to CBS News, YMCA is expected to lose $400 million in revenue in April.
For some nonprofits, developing an online fundraising strategy, as discussed in Business 2 Community’s Building a Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy During Coronavirus, may be necessary. Additionally, SBA loans may be available to small businesses and private nonprofit organizations to help with the economic problems caused by COVID-19. See the SBA Disaster Assistance in Response to the Coronavirus for information.
For nonprofits that continue to serve the community, health and safety must be top concerns. With the threat of COVID-19, work cannot simply continue in the same way. Nonprofits must be conscious of:
- Risk to clients: Your employees and volunteers could inadvertently spread the virus to your organization’s clients.
- Risk to employees and volunteers: Anyone who serves the public is at risk. This is especially true of healthcare workers.
- Risk to your nonprofit organization: Nonprofits could face employment practices claims, workers’ compensation claims, and liability claims– all arising from their actions (or lack of action) during this epidemic.
Risk Management Protocols
A variety of COVID-19 lawsuits are already being filed. Even in the nonprofit sector, you must be prepared to show that you took reasonable care to protect employees, volunteers, and clients. With this in mind, document all policies, procedures, and training. Be sure that everyone knows that you are prioritizing their safety. Below are some steps to consider:
- Establish clear policies about working (or volunteering) only when healthy.
- Inform clients of the steps you are taking to prevent virus spread.
- Use video conferencing or HIPAA-compliant telehealth measures when possible.
- If you work with patients, prescreen them by calling before appointments to inquire about signs of fever or cough.
- Provide volunteers and employees with personal protective equipment if possible.
- Establish clear procedures for social distancing, hygiene and the sanitation of equipment and personal items while working.
- If social distancing is difficult, encourage clients to also wear cloth face coverings. Share this video on how to make your own face covering. Keep in mind that some medically fragile clients may not be able to wear a face covering.
- Train all employees and volunteers to follow CDC tips on washing your hands properly, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and other ways to stop the spread of coronavirus.
- For information on how employers and managers should manage coronavirus issues safely, read the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019.
- Follow HIPAA guidelines to protect the privacy of any employees, volunteers, or clients who contract the virus.