How are nonprofits faring during the pandemic? A reflection by UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Lora Warner

As I’ve come to know the nonprofit sector in our region quite well, I have developed a great deal of respect for the organizations and leaders who passionately work within them. I admire nonprofit leaders – this job is much more difficult than running a business. They must seek donations and grants, keep the pool of volunteers strong and manage their own employees while confronting enormous challenges like homelessness. It is an under-appreciated part of our society that really provides the foundation for our quality of life in often-invisible ways.

During the pandemic, nonprofits (NPOs) are working hard behind the scenes to keep people safe and provide help that’s needed. NPO leaders are adaptable and creative—just see how ADRC was able to quickly re-purpose staff and volunteers to more than double home meal delivery (to over 600/day); Howe Community Resource Center overcame many obstacles to secure internet access for its neighboring families and collaborated with others to provide food. CASA Alba Melanie was able to quickly mobilize to test hundreds (maybe thousands) of area residents for Covid-19. This is just a tiny subset of innovation stories. They have turned on a dime, gotten creative, and jumped in as partners to meet our community’s needs. Wow! Thank you!

Our governments simply can’t handle all of the needs of our community and we have grown to rely on our nonprofits and assume they will do what they do. They are lean and efficient, relying on volunteers and donations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, these agencies have had to alter their services so much because they tend to be working directly with people, and now they cannot. I’m really concerned when many nonprofit leaders say how hard it is to maintain a relationship with the people they serve, such as children and youth, individuals facing addictions, and older adults home alone, unable to use technology. There simply are not enough staff and not everyone has access to or can use technology.

UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Lora Warner

UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Lora Warner

These organizations face great challenges these days—challenges that most of us don’t know about. Only about half of them have received emergency grants from the government or our area foundations, and a majority have had to cancel a major fundraising event this summer. The immediate need for volunteers is different now and urgent. Most nonprofits have had to “lay off” volunteers due to the stay at home orders.

Small and ‘non-essential’ nonprofits are especially at risk. Where a lot of money flows to causes that address basic needs (and rightfully so), we still need our environmental, educational and arts organizations that enhance our communities in other ways. Right now, these groups are facing serious financial concerns. Our survey found that our local environmental organizations are among the most threatened.

But this is not just a post about how your donations are needed (they are!). Nonprofits can use creative and skilled volunteers who are not in high-risk groups and willing to engage through technology. In the past, many volunteers helped directly with special events, office work, mentoring, working with clients, or serving on the board of directors. Now, volunteers are needed to help with social media messaging, making financial projections, working on a board committee that is re-inventing a special event, or mentoring a young (or old) person through zoom. Many of these roles are possible to do from home or on your own time. Consider offering your help to a nonprofit whose mission you love.

If you want to read more about what’s going on with the nonprofit sector in Northeast Wisconsin, the Center for Public Affairs has just released a survey of 546 Wisconsin nonprofit organizations, including 139 from our region. UW-Green Bay is working to build the effectiveness of area nonprofit organizations through its undergraduate Nonprofit Certificate program and new continuing education in nonprofit leadership. Our students interned throughout the area and granted out $21,000 to NPOs through the Philanthropy class I teach.

Please join me in supporting our voluntary, non-profit seeking organizations. If you are able, please consider sending them a donation and thanking these neighbors for doing the important work they do for all of us. If you can, call them and offer to volunteer on a board committee, special project or other needed effort. The nonprofit sector is all of us – it offers each of us a vehicle to make a difference in our community.

by Dr. Lora Warner, Associate Professor at UW-Green Bay, Director of the Center for Public Affairs.

Warner has recently released a Snapshot Report on the Northeast Wisconsin Nonprofit Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and has conversed with nonprofit leaders representing over 80 area organizations as part of the Leader Conversations held every week this spring. More information is available at


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