Update to the Community

August 14, 2020

Washington Nonprofits is the statewide association of nonprofits. Washington Nonprofits makes sure nonprofits have what they need to succeed through learning, advocacy, and collaboration. Funders and journalists ask us to comment on how nonprofits are doing and what main issues they are facing. In this update, we summarize what is going on for nonprofits and how Washington Nonprofits is evolving to meet changing needs.

We are committed to holding ourselves accountable to our members, our funders, and the larger nonprofit community. With so much in flux at this time, we wanted to share an update on our activities now. We welcome your questions, your feedback, and your partnership.

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A map of Washington state with dots representing all the nonprofits, from the Pacific to the Palouse!
A map of Washington state with dots representing all the nonprofits, from the Pacific to the Palouse!

How Are Nonprofits Doing?

The pandemic and the economic crisis are impacting society profoundly. Here are some of the things we are observing in the nonprofit sector:

Adaptation & Learning

Nonprofits are divided in to two main categories:

  • organizations providing essential services that have continued to work throughout the pandemic and
  • organizations that have had to close down temporarily.

Essential service providers like emergency food and shelter found completely new ways to do their work in difficult and uncertain conditions. Food banks have moved from a shopping experience for clients to delivery and contactless pickup. Preschools have retooled to offer childcare for first responders. Counselors, case managers, and tutors have moved to virtual appointments.

Working in new ways is placing new demands on teams. Many managers are having trouble adjusting to remote supervision. Some employees are struggling with adapting while facing very real trauma related to the pandemic. Nonprofits are working through new HR issues.

Financial & Economic Challenges

Nonprofits are struggling financially. Fundraising has been disrupted and major events are cancelled. Earned revenues are down or discontinued.

Communities and nonprofits are facing a financial cliff in 2021. PPP loan funds are running out now, eviction moratoriums will end, CARES Act funding will be spent by December, and state revenues will be greatly impacted by the economic crisis.

Working safely during COVID costs more. Examples of additional costs include:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),
  • replacing volunteers and clinical interns with paid staff,
  • serving fewer people due to social distancing requirements,
  • improving technology to support working from home and/or virtual service provision,
  • extra cleaning, and
  • increased supervision costs for youth programming.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities. People living in poverty, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, non-English speakers and others who have been marginalized experience greater impacts from the pandemic. Impacts include:

  • economic disadvantage,
  • unequal access to healthcare, and
  • lack of access to technology.

Demand for basic services has increased dramatically. Nonprofits based in and led by members of marginalized communities have been chronically underfunded and face greater threats to their survival.

We are facing a childcare crisis. Childcare slots were scarce prior to this crisis, and many more have been lost. Childcare and school reopening are critical to restarting our economy.

Uncertainty is a challenge. Not knowing what the future holds is making planning, budgeting, and fundraising difficult. No one knows when museums, schools, and theaters will be able to reopen. It is difficult to predict staffing needs and service levels. Some funders are requiring that nonprofits develop and present several different service scenarios as a part of their application process, which is burdensome.

Leadership Challenges

Responding to this crisis is taking an emotional toll on nonprofit staff and board members. Our sector is filled with people who care deeply and work daily to improve people’s lives. The impacts of the pandemic, the economic crisis, and ongoing racism is significant for everyone. These are particularly intense for many nonprofit leaders.

Communities of color, undocumented people, incarcerated people, trans people are all harder hit. Leaders from organizations that serve these populations are especially exhausted.

Many nonprofits have lost the majority of their volunteers because they are older, in high risk groups, or have kids at home and do not have time to volunteer.

Nonprofits are trying to manage risk while continuing essential services. Nonprofits are establishing new protocols, redesigning spaces, and training staff to take new precautions and enforce new rules. Many nonprofits are not able to afford health insurance for their staff, making it extra difficult to ask them to provide services that may put them at risk. Some nonprofits have moved their operations outdoors for safety. What will happen when the winter comes?

Nonprofits care about their people. As nonprofits consider layoffs or other cuts, they have a great deal of concern for their employees and have tried to discern how to best support their staff.

Nonprofits could lose valuable talent. Many nonprofits have professional staff with specialized training. If they are forced to lay off experienced, skilled staff, rebuilding later will be more difficult.


Not everyone recognizes the importance of nonprofits to our communities. Early relief proposals from federal and state government focused on small businesses but did not mention nonprofits, even though 10% of jobs in Washington are in nonprofits. We have an ongoing challenge to ensure that policymakers recognize how vital nonprofits are to recovery.

Nonprofits without staff have not received relief. Approximately 75% of nonprofits in Washington state have no paid staff, yet they provide an amazing array of services. Because federal stimulus packages have been geared to preserving employment, these organizations have not yet received assistance. Yet, they have ongoing expenses such as rent, utilities, supplies, training costs, and transportation.


There are silver linings. This crisis has demonstrated that people can change behaviors, work in new ways, and innovate quickly. While disparities are on full display, it is also true that working remotely has also brought some benefits. For example, Washington Nonprofits has been able to engage more of our member nonprofits across the state in advocacy visits with legislators. It is easier to attend a videoconference or call than to travel to an in-person meeting. Virtual service delivery has increased access for some because it eliminates transportation and distance barriers (for people who have high-speed internet access and privacy to engage in counseling sessions, recovery groups, etc.). The nonprofit sector is having powerful discussions about what new practices might merit continuation even if not required by the pandemic. We recently hosted a community conversation titled Imagining the Nonprofit Workplace of the Future.

Increased awareness of racism and disparities in the impact of COVID-19 may result in larger societal and policy changes. These changes might result in positive impacts for the communities that we serve, perhaps even reducing the need for some of the services nonprofits provide.

Washington Nonprofits’ COVID-19 Response

Since COVID-19 hit, we have been listening to nonprofits and helping them navigate in uncharted waters. We have:

  • Scheduled free webinars on COVID-19 and nonprofits, with audiences from 400 to 700 people.
  • Moved both of our conferences online, serving 650 people.
  • Moved all our learning events online to continue to serve nonprofits.
  • Provided timely, accurate (vetted) information and resources via email and our website.
  • Convened affinity groups to crowdsource ideas and strategies for adapting to COVID-19:
    • census activists,
    • volunteer managers, and
    • executive directors.
  • Convened capacity builders to coordinate efforts.
  • Convened a Nonprofit COVID-19 Advocacy Workgroup with 75 members.
  • Advocated at the federal and state level for inclusion of nonprofits in relief and recovery efforts (ongoing).
  • Adjusted our census outreach work to use new strategies to reach historically undercounted communities during a time when public gatherings and in-person outreach are not possible.
  • Provided support to launch a Black, Indigenous, People of Color Executive Directors Network.
  • Ran a four-part series of online conversations with nonprofit leaders related to reopening safely.

Street art in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. The two signs read "I have always loved you" and "Black Lives Matter." Photo by Erika Robertson
Street art in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. The two signs read “I have always loved you” and “Black Lives Matter.” Photo by Erika Robertson

What about Racial Equity?

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and other instances of anti-Black violence and police brutality, individuals and organizations are reflecting and taking action against racism. Washington Nonprofits remains committed to becoming a more equitable and anti-racist organization. We are certainly discussing it as a staff even more in recent weeks.

What Are Nonprofits Doing?

Nonprofits have diverse perspectives on any given topic. Some nonprofits are resistant to focusing on racial equity. However, we are hearing that many nonprofits are inspired to do more, especially in the following areas:

  • Learn more about racism and how it impacts individuals and communities.
  • Take anti-racist actions.
  • Reshape our organizations to improve service to and outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
  • Ensure that the organization’s leadership reflects the communities that they serve.
  • Examine internal policies and practices to create a workplace that supports all.

What Is Washington Nonprofits Doing?

  • Strongly supporting increased investment in communities of color/BIPOC leaders.
  • Centering EDs of color by supporting the formation of BIPOC ED Network.
  • Sharing funding with BIPOC-led capacity building partners and supporting initiatives to support nonprofit staff of color.
  • Improving hiring, board recruitment, and trainer recruitment practices for Washington Nonprofits to decrease bias and increase racial diversity.
  • Sending staff members to equity trainings.
  • Engaging in ongoing learning by convening our board and staff to discuss books and articles about anti-racism.
  • Reviewing our policies and culture to reduce bias and behaviors associated with white supremacy.
  • Scheduling learning opportunities related to equity for nonprofits at least quarterly.
  • Planning an anti-racism program for white leaders based on requests from BIPOC and white leaders.
  • Being thoughtful:
    • Build relationships and take direction from POC nonprofit leaders/organizations
    • Recognize regional differences in how this issue is viewed.
    • Seek to avoid divisive language.
    • Listen and learn.
    • Lift up what is working.

What’s Next for Washington Nonprofits?

We are in a long period of change and uncertainty. Our programming in the coming year will reflect the following beliefs:

  • Nonprofits must stay unified during this crisis and beyond. We are stronger together.
  • Adaptive leadership requires collaboration to share information and develop new strategies.
  • We must advocate for strategies that reduce disparities and increase equity.
  • Nonprofits are integral to shaping a “better normal” for the future.

We plan to:

  • Continue to center and listen to nonprofits and respond with timely information and programs that address emergent needs and topics.
  • Strengthen local nonprofit networks: increase local staffing and partnerships across Washington state, including rural areas.
  • Maintain a robust learning program through online offerings—core nonprofit management and governance workshops plus timely special topics—adding in-person workshops when it is safe to do so.
  • Provide nonprofits with new resources to help them navigate workplace safety issues as well as adjust to the new overtime threshold rules via increased partnership with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
  • Provide increased opportunities for affinity groups to convene and learn together.
  • Continue to advocate vigorously for the importance of nonprofits to our economic and social wellbeing.

Please join us. Whether you are a nonprofit leader or an ally, please be in touch with us to share how you would like to contribute to our collective work building a strong and influential nonprofit sector.

The smiling faces of Washington Nonprofits, from top right: Daniel Parkhurst, Laura Pierce, Dwight Hutton, Tracy Flynn, Jessica Caudle, Kendell Tylee, Morgan Feder, Erika Bentley Holland, Julia Hunter, and Tom Lang.

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