Donna Matturro McAleer: Utah nonprofits need support from the ‘Best Managed State’

In this Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018 photo, Mark Johnson attaches new handlebars to one of his homemade bikes at the Ogden Bicycle Collective in Ogden, Utah. Johnson took mechanic classes at the non-profit bike collective before he started building his own bicycles. (Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is profound beyond everyone’s worst nightmare. As we all adjust to the new reality of survival, I must bring to your attention a valuable segment of the business community in Utah that has been overlooked in the state government’s rush to help businesses and citizens affected by this pandemic: nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofits are an integral part of Utah’s social fabric and economic vitality. Statewide, this sector employs 78,000 individuals and represents 6.7% of Utah’s workforce. Thousands of volunteers commit untold numbers of hours to support and execute vital programs and services that touch nearly all Utahns. We serve children, adults and families, people with disabilities and of all backgrounds and orientations.

Our impact includes: the homeless, hungry, those recovering from substance abuse, people without access to medical care and newly-arrived refugees. We provide food, shelter, child and elder care and support to survivors of abuse. We make available translation, transportation, counseling and business incubation, along with educational enrichment and assistance at every level. We advocate for clean air, water, public lands, civil liberties and equality.

We are on the front line providing in many cases life-saving services to our most vulnerable citizens. We bring hope for a better life and future to the people most harmed by the pandemic.

No matter how diversified our revenue streams were — retail sales, program fees, events, and charitable giving — all have been impacted. Even with such dedicated people willingly giving their time and effort — for free — nonprofits still need that one thing that all of us need: money. The financial markets have decimated the portfolios of individuals, institutions and foundations that, in the past generously, supported us. A recent survey by Utah Nonprofit Association determined “this combination has made the missions of Utah’s 10,000 non-profits even more challenging — threatening lives, jobs, and the community safety net staffed and supported by Utah’s non-profits.”

Utah consistently ranks among the most philanthropic states. State leaders regularly promote Utah as the “Best Managed State in the Nation.” Yet, the sector that serves our most vulnerable people was left out of the “Utah Leads” Bridge Loan Program. Nonprofits have been told to rely on the Small Business Administration and federal government for assistance, an extraordinarily ironic position given the state’s traditional advocacy of local self-reliance.

Fortunately, the cities of Salt Lake, Ogden and St. George launched municipal economic aid packages for small businesses and non-profits.

Community response to this pandemic is a challenge for all of us. I am inspired by how the staff at Bicycle Collective, a statewide nonprofit with locations in Ogden, Provo, St. George and Salt Lake, have transformed our operational model in two weeks. Our mission to put people on bikes has been met with extraordinary enthusiasm. Moreover, “thanks” to the pandemic, the need has increased, as many are looking for alternatives to public transportation and to maintain social distancing.

For some, bicycles are their only form of transportation. For others, riding a bike provides an enjoyable physical health option to boost immunity and sun exposure. Now, there is an even greater mental health benefit, as people seek an alternative to self-quarantining indoors and want to recreate outside.

Our doors “re-opened” with appointments for test rides and repair service, and on-line sales to get people on bikes while practicing social distancing. With more than 30 community non-profit partners, we serve a growing and diverse population. Our role will not change, but the need for affordable recycled bikes and parts, and our programs and services will only increase. We will get through this pandemic by working together.

The loss of any nonprofit’s ability to complete its mission will exacerbate the impact of COVID-19 on the health and safety of all Utah communities.

As emergency aid packages continue to be evaluated and expanded, I urge the inclusion of support for non-profit organizations that continue serving Utah during this time of need. Specifically, charities need the financial support to maintain operations, expand scope to address increasing demands, and stabilize losses from closures throughout the State.

Many nonprofits are standing on the front lines and on the brink. We need Utah’s help to ensure nonprofits can serve our communities’ urgent needs today and contribute to a healthy civil society in the future.

Donna McAleer

Donna Matturro McAleer is executive director of The Bicycle Collective.