“A perfect storm” is how Heather Larkin, President and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation, describes the state of philanthropy and COVID-19.

“Demand for services is up and revenue streams are obliterated,” Larkin says. “Events are a major source of income for nonprofits and clearly there are no events happening. … For the nonprofits that haven’t seen a huge increase in demand, for example arts organizations, revenue has bottomed and donors have, in many cases, turned their limited dollars to more human service organizations.”

She would know. Since 1976, nonprofits and donors have trusted the ACF to promote smart giving in order to improve communities. This year, Larkin says, “Nonprofits need financial support in a way we have not experienced in the past.”

In response to the pandemic, ACF has already granted nearly $3 million to organizations across the state. Recipients ranged from youth basketball leagues distributing food to hungry families and summer reading programs opening early, to micro-grants and telemedicine.

The Pivot

“We immediately pivoted to PPE production,” says Dr. Chris Jones, executive director of The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. “We have the tools to make just about anything you can imagine. It quickly became apparent that face masks, face shields, ventilator parts and other PPE were in high demand.”

The Innovation Hub created a task force and an online system, Maker Tracker, to meet the demand. More than 260 Arkansas makers created and donated more than 12,000 units of PPE that were distributed throughout the state and country. In addition, the organization’s educational offerings – classes, workshops, field trips and more – have gone virtual.

It’s a different story for arts and humanities organizations that have lost revenue from canceled shows, exhibits and fundraisers. Because they do not provide front-line relief, Larkin says they are not competitive for many COVID-19 grant opportunities and may be lower on the list of priorities for individual donors.

“We were devastated to have to cancel our upcoming seventh annual Acansa Arts Festival of the South and several other planned events this year,” Executive Director Dillon Hupp says, “and we are facing an unpredictable future in terms of our ability to host in-person programming going forward. We have had to pivot to virtual and digital content, and we are excited about sharing more of these opportunities with our audience through our continuing ‘Acansa A(r)t Home’ series and other partnerships.”

Elizabeth Pulley, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, is no stranger to rescheduling — the CAC postponed its annual Women of Inspiration gala — but says she’s seen a change in the community as well.

“Support is still happening but in different ways. At the beginning of COVID, several people wanted to donate PPE to our centers or even wanted to make homemade masks,” Pulley says, but points to the reason behind the current fundraising push for its 17 centers. “COVID has hit us hard, but child abuse in Arkansas has not stopped.”

According to Larkin, animal welfare organizations, as well as animal organizations providing therapies to humans, typically operate with very low margins and have consistent, recurrent expenses for food and overhead.

“We are hearing donations are down and expenses are up as people who have lost income are having to surrender pets or forego necessary veterinary treatment,” Larkin says.

The Humane Society of Pulaski County is focused on adoptions during COVID-19. While their kennels are closed to the public, they offer a simple, safe online process with outdoor adoptions scheduled by appointment.

“This is not a good time to give up your pets as shelters and rescues struggle to take homeless animals that are desperate. Never has there been a better reason to commit to reducing the animal population through spaying and neutering,” says Debbie Howell, HSPC board president. “When adding a new pet, please adopt and don’t shop!”

Smart Giving

Similar to small businesses, many nonprofits will simply not survive. This, according to Larkin, may cause a gap in vital services that make Arkansas communities a better place to live.

“Imagine our communities without a vibrant nonprofit sector,” she says. “A bleak picture indeed.”

Surviving nonprofits will be those with strong leadership, organizations that are creative and flexible and can measure their impact to make the case for limited charitable dollars.

“Obviously we have seen a drastic reduction in income based on our inability to sell tickets to events,” Hupp says. “However, we have been greatly encouraged by the support from the community. …The central Arkansas community is one that greatly appreciates and supports their local arts organizations.”

The HSPC, in order to remain financially stable, has conducted at least three fundraising campaigns since the beginning of the COVID crisis and applied for grants and relief funds. According to Howell, they’ve since received funding from the Bissell Pet Foundation and Subaru used to encourage adoptions.

“Overall, the support has been generous and ever increasing. We are also thankful that the support we have received has been filled with wisdom and perseverance,” Jones says. “The wisdom has come from wise accountants, bankers, friends and advisory board members that guided us through the land of PPP and several grant opportunities. The support internally from our staff has been one of perseverance. … They continued to work hard and learn new skills in order to keep our doors open. What more can you ask of your team? What more can you ask of your community?”

How to Help:

Nonprofit organizations are seeing a downturn in revenue and need help to stay in operation until giving patterns normalize. That’s where you come in.

  • Donate PPE and sanitizer to senior centers, child care centers/schools and therapy providers.
  • Volunteer with Meals on Wheels, Arkansas Foodbank or other hunger-fighting organizations.
  • Support minority populations as a translator, hotline worker or contact tracer.
  • Join a membership with the Little Rock Zoo, Museum of Discovery, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, etc.

For more ideas and information, visit arcf.org.

Current Needs:

Children’s Advocacy Centers: “Gift cards to major retailers, gas stations and grocery stores are helpful to our centers in order to meet the needs of families in crisis.”

The Innovation Hub: “Sign up for classes, sign up your children for our after-school program and inform teachers that fun, new virtual field trips can happen along with professional development.”

Humane Society: “We are accepting pet items and supplies at this time. Those donations can be left outside the front doors of the shelter.”

Acansa: “Like us on Facebook, sign up for our e-blasts and help us get the word out.”