Last October, coinciding with our annual Giving Guide, we published a story on how nonprofits were faring in the midst of COVID-19 that we referred to internally as "the state of philanthropy."
We interviewed leaders from a variety of organizations, including Heather Larkin, the president and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation, which collects and shares data on charities across the state to help people make informed decisions on where to give their money.
A year later, cases are surging, events are rescheduling, the economy's on unstable footing and we have a serious case of deja vu.
I spoke with Larkin to get an update on this year's state of philanthropy and what's in store for the future.
Big picture, what's the health report of nonprofits in Arkansas today vs. last year?
We see nonprofits being creative and resilient, and most continue to provide vital services under extraordinarily stressful times. While our COVID survey data is a year old, we know many continue to experience a decrease in funding. Unfortunately, some nonprofits did dissolve, but honestly, fewer than was expected at this point last year. Many staffed nonprofits were able to take advantage of PPP loans to keep employees working. Some nonprofits actually grew as donors, foundations and government funding sources invested heavily in health and human service organizations that have seen high demand from clients.
What are the major differences or trends you're seeing in how nonprofits are handling the ongoing pandemic?
Given all the ongoing uncertainty around safety, fundraising events are still difficult to pull off, so we are seeing some nonprofits transition their fundraising strategies away from being heavily reliant on events. Many nonprofits have leaned into different models for delivering their programs and engaging communities.
While nothing replaces an in-person connection, we are certainly seeing that meaningful work can be done virtually, which can actually help nonprofits serve clients better than before — greater flexibility for clients who lack transportation, time away from work, etc. We are also seeing arts/humanities organizations being more creative in how they deliver their content using virtual tools.
Is there a timeline for recovery or when you expect most organizations to be back where they were before COVID?
Many organizations may have been using operating reserves to stay afloat, so as those funds begin to run out, the situation may change. The full effect of the pandemic on Arkansas nonprofits probably won’t be known for another year or two.
Were there any projects or initiatives over the past year that really stuck with you personally?
There have been two in particular. We launched our Building Black Communities Fund. We were approached by Facebook Inc. to give $1 million to Black-led and Black-serving nonprofits in the Little Rock metro area. When we put out an RFP for grant applications, the response was incredible. We granted to 40 local nonprofits and partnered with the newly formed Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative and an advisory committee of local Black leaders to do outreach and select the grantees. This new fund gave the foundation a chance to reach a new audience.
Through 2020 and still, we are so impressed with organizations that are trying to provide mental health support for their employees. It has been a difficult couple of years for everyone, but perhaps especially for those whose job it is to help people when they are at their most vulnerable. That kind of work is extremely gratifying, but it can also take a toll. We are hearing from many different kinds of organizations that want to be able to provide better support to their employees so that they have the help they need to continue doing good in their communities.
What message would you give to weary communities looking for encouragement as we head into the giving season?
Arkansans continue to be generous. I meet with donors all the time who are still passionate about giving back in their local community. To help them fulfill their charitable intent, the foundation has responded by making grants at an unprecedented scale over the last 18 months with no plans of slowing down.
We have 29 affiliate offices statewide that cover all 75 counties, so a Community Foundation office isn’t too far from anyone. Each affiliate is governed by a local board and has an executive director. That means there are about 450 community leaders statewide and one covering every county, making funding decisions so local dollars have local impact.
Our mission is to engage people, connect resources and inspire solutions to build Arkansas communities forever. We do that through the power of endowment and our state’s generous residents. I encourage Arkansas nonprofits and anyone looking to make a difference to find the nearest affiliate and give them a call.