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The pandemic has dealt a blow to arts and culture nonprofits, while basic needs providers have flourished

Volunteers load cars with box’s of food, during 9th District Councilmember Rex Richardson’s second food distribution for Long Beach families at Jordan High School, in response to COVID-19. The event was in partnership with Community Action Partnership of Orange County, Alpha Phi Alpha and Power of One Foundation. Saturday, May 30, 2020. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Nonprofits have played a significant role during the pandemic by delivering food to those in need, spreading the word about support programs for small businesses and helping quell concerns about the coronavirus vaccine.

But when it comes to the wellbeing of nonprofits themselves, some have been hit hard or languished during the pandemic while others have thrived, depending on the nature of their services.

“With the pandemic, the need increased so significantly that our partner agencies were just inundated with people,” said Diana Lara, executive director of Los Alamitos-based Food Finders, which partners with local nonprofits to provide food to those in need.

Food Finders staff reached out to foundations, individual donors and corporations to pull in additional donations—and received an outpouring of support in response.

The organization raised an added $300,000 from various sources for its coronavirus relief efforts and procured 17 million pounds of food in 2020, compared to roughly 11 million pounds in 2019. Volunteer sign ups reached record highs, with 400 new volunteers joining last year.

“So many people just went out of their way to do what they could,” Lara said. “We were very blessed.”

Overall, projections for charitable giving continue to be positive after a year that saw plenty of needs—and the donations to match.

“Nonprofits have truly filled the gap that the public and private sector cannot reach,” said Marcelle Epley, president and chief executive of Long Beach Community Foundation. As a result, the foundation—which provides grants to local nonprofits—has had a “banner year” of donations, Epley said.

According to a preliminary report, the foundation gave $7.73 million to nonprofits last year, compared to $4.8 million in 2019, supported by an increase in contributions to its charitable funds. The virtual fundraiser Long Beach Gives raised $1.7 million last year, more than double the amount raised in 2019.

That trend is expected to continue not just locally, but nationwide.

A study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University projects that charitable giving will increase by 4.1% this year, with increased giving by individuals, households and corporations driving the upward trend.

These projections, the research team emphasized, will be highly dependent on overall economic conditions.

Some of that increased giving may go to nonprofits focused on arts and cultural programming, which have suffered significant revenue losses during the pandemic as a result of limitations placed on gatherings and in-person events.

With the focus on organizations providing basic needs services, nonprofits in arts and cultural programming have struggled, especially as fundraising opportunities remain limited.

“Unfortunately those types of programs have not risen to the surface as a [funding] priority,” Epley said. “I believe that with summer coming and things opening back up there will be investment into those critical areas that make a community vibrant, thriving.”

International City Theatre Director caryn desai, who prefers her name in lowercase, said that after an especially successful financial year in 2019, the pandemic ripped a hole in the organization’s budget that made its board of directors gasp.

“They’re seeing numbers they’re not used to,” desai said.

The theater’s revenues, which consist primarily of subscription fees and single ticket sales, have plummeted, down 90% from the previous year. “I’m taking a beating because virtual performances don’t sell,” desai said.

Still, the theater director said she’s had to invest in some level of virtual programming—or risk losing her audience altogether.

“It’s what’s available to us to stay connected,” she said. “We want to make sure that when we do open, the community is still there, that we’re still viable in their eyes.”

Other arts organizations have fared slightly better. Stan DeWitt, artistic director of the Long Beach Youth Chorus, said the choir has done fairly well from a fundraising perspective, and because of its small size and low overhead costs has suffered less during the pandemic.

“Being small is like being a sports car in this pandemic,” DeWitt said.

For his organization, the choir director said, recruiting new members and keeping them connected to the group has been the biggest challenge.

“Our summer plans are to do as much social stuff as possible to re-engage the kids,” he said. “Keeping them engaged has really been priority number one.”

Despite the continued challenges the pandemic has dealt to nonprofit organizations, local experts are confident that the city’s rich nonprofit landscape will recover.

“The nonprofits we’re talking to are ready to go and they’re looking for ways to connect to each other,” said Michelle Byerly, executive director of The Nonprofit Partnership. “We’re resilient.”

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