Utah nonprofits serve but suffer during pandemic

Utah Nonprofit Association says some organizations might not survive

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteers hand out food from the Utah Food Bank to needy families, Dec. 23, 2020. The economic impact of the pandemic meant the Food Bank saw triple the demand for food in some months of 2020 compared to 2019. Many nonprofits around the state saw similar spikes in demand.

With families stuck at home and under increased stress during the pandemic, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition became more critical than ever, and calls from people seeking help to escape domestic violence to the nonprofit’s service line, 1-800-897-LINK, increased. But in the same period, the nonprofit saw a 33% drop in fundraising contributions. It was a similar story at many nonprofits in Utah during COVID-19.

Utahns relied on nonprofits more than ever in 2020, but those nonprofits often had to make do with less funding, a survey conducted in April by the Utah Nonprofit Association (UNA) found. Of 121 surveyed nonprofits, 74% saw an increase in demands for services, while total revenue across organizations fell 30%.

Low funding means less people employed in the nonprofit industry. The nonprofits surveyed projected a 37% decline in staffing in 2021 compared to 2019, with 1,848 jobs already lost between 2019 and 2020.

For many organizations, the lack of funding is a pressing issue; 7% of the nonprofits said they don’t think they will last four months.

Cuts in services are another way that nonprofits are trying to weather the hard times. “Surviving does not mean thriving,” noted UNA CEO Kate Rubalcava in the news release.

Nonprofits budget cuts will have “far-reaching consequences,” UNA said in a news release. “A reduction in services addressing childhood hunger can lead to more undernourished children—children who then experience delayed development, increased risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia, and behavioral problems including hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression in school-age children.”

The Salt Lake Tribune is a member of UNA but did not participate in the survey.

Crucial services see spikes in demand

Victim service providers, like the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, saw a spike in demand during the pandemic as people experienced unemployment and reduced housing and childcare options, said spokeswoman Liz Sollis.

Nonprofit organizations that work on health and hunger, which also saw increased demand during the pandemic, generally fared better in terms of funding, but faced other challenges.

Doug Caylor, executive director at the Moab Free Health Clinic, which gives health care to the uninsured and underinsured, said the pandemic increased demand and made it harder to find volunteers.

Many of the clinic’s medical providers are at retirement age and were at-risk for in-person work. Others work for hospitals that didn’t want them to volunteer at the clinic during the pandemic because of the increased risk.

At the same time, the clinic received new patients as people lost their jobs and with them their health insurance. Early on in the pandemic, the clinic saw an increase in calls from people who could no longer afford their medications.

But money wasn’t a problem. Caylor said the clinic received enough grants and donations to fund the additional community needs. It also partnered with a local pharmacy to make sure people received their prescriptions.

In Park City, the People’s Health Clinic also didn’t have a problem with donations. Executive Director Beth Armstrong said the pandemic may have made the need for healthcare services more visible in the public eye.

The Utah Food Bank, which is not a member of UNA, saw three times the demand for food in some months during 2020 compared to 2019. Increased need has continued, but donations have kept up, according to President Ginette Bott.

When communities can’t gather

Other nonprofits struggled to provide services at all during the lockdown. When COVID closed screenings for Park City Film, an art house theater in Summit County, the nonprofit had to get creative to stay afloat.

It partnered with the Utah Olympic Park to host drive-in screenings during the summer, and offered virtual showings of films that normally would have played in-person. That was a hard sell at times, according to Executive Director Katharine Wang. She said it’s difficult to convince people to pay $12 for one movie when they could pay a similar amount for a monthly subscription to a movie streaming site like Netflix.

“Part of what we do is connect people through the arts,” she said. She said that mission is very different from nonprofits like food banks that saw huge increases in need during the pandemic, but said the healing power of coming together around a shared experience is important, especially during hard times.

The nonprofit lost its ability to sell concessions at Sundance, which Wang said is typically its biggest fundraiser of the year. Wang said the group had lost 90% of their revenue in their first quarter this year.

Park City Film reopened to the public in April and is operating at 14% capacity, but Wang said the theater isn’t “out of the woods yet.”

With nonprofits reeling financially, UNA is asking the governor and legislature to set aside money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for grants to keep them afloat.

“Commitment and resilience will not protect our communities from the loss of nonprofit services,” said UNA in its news release. “They need funding to continue to serve their constituents and secure their staff.”

Correction • May 24, 1:46 p.m.: a previous version of this article said the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition saw a 33% drop in funding. In fact they saw a 33% drop in fundraising contributions.