Nonprofits feeling the pinch amid economic uncertainty

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 4:08 PM EDT
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It's a tough time to ask people for money, something Vermont's 4,500 nonprofits know all too well. According to Common Good Vermont, those nonprofits generate more than $6.5 billion a year in revenue and employ about 18% of the workforce. Our Ike Bendavid checked in on the state's nonprofit sector to see how it's faring.

Along with the warmer weather in spring comes an increase in fundraisers. Nonprofits take advantage by holding outdoor events. But those are being called off because of the coronavirus.

For COTS, the Committee on Temporary Shelter, it means their annual COTS Walk is going online. But with just three weeks to go, donations are way down.

"Typically we would be 50%-60% of the way to the goal and right now we are at 30%," said Becky Holt of COTS.

Other nonprofits like Make-A-Wish Vermont say they have had to cancel at least 20 events. They're expecting a loss in fundraising in the six figures.

"That's sad for the kids, it's sad for us. We like to bring joy to these families and we can't right now," said Jamie Hathaway of Make-A-Wish.

About 62,000 Vermonters work in the nonprofit sector. Neither COTS nor Make-A-Wish says they have laid people off but other organizations are not so lucky.

"Arts organizations are hurting. They are struggling to pay their bills, so artists have been furloughed," said Karen Mittelman of the Vermont Arts Council.

These nonprofits know they survive on donations and that budgets are tight for everyone.

"It's not the time to be aggressive in fundraising," Hathaway said.

"We are going to donate a portion of our stimulus check to the COTS Walk this year and if other people did that, we would be grateful," Holt said.

Mittelman says they can't put a number yet on the number of artists impacted by the coronavirus or the employees at venues who are not working, but she says without the arts there will be a ripple effect.

"We need to remember that our arts and community are going to be essential when our communities reopen," Mittelman said.