Mar 25, 2020 6:30 PM

Virus outbreak poses massive challenges for US charities

Posted Mar 25, 2020 6:30 PM
The pandemic stopped the annual Girl Scout cookie sale. Above is Alliance, NE councilwomen Annora Bentley with Girl Scouts in Box Butte County. 
The pandemic stopped the annual Girl Scout cookie sale. Above is Alliance, NE councilwomen Annora Bentley with Girl Scouts in Box Butte County. 

NEW YORK (AP)— With its global scope and its staying power, the coronavirus outbreak poses unprecedented challenges for charities and nonprofit groups that rely on donations.

The American Red Cross faces a severe blood shortage due to the cancellation of nearly 2,700 blood drives. The Girl Scouts' annual cookie sale — vital to the group's finances — has been disrupted by a top-level plea to halt in-person sales.

And a 21-member coalition of major nonprofits is pleading with Congress to allocate $60 billion so charities can keep their staff on the job and ramp up assistance programs.

The CEO of one of those groups, Brian Gallagher of United Way Worldwide, has worked with the charity since 1981, engaging in its response to the 9/11 attacks, the Ebola threat, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

He said the COVID-19 outbreak has no parallel: "It's as if a natural disaster is hitting in slow motion just about every country on Earth."

Already, foundations and other major donors have contributed more than $1.9 billion to combat the outbreak, according to Candid, a New York-based nonprofit that tracks philanthropic giving.

The overall total, including donations from individuals, is surely far higher. Yet nonprofit leaders fear that the needs arising from the outbreak will outstrip even the possibility of massive future giving, let alone a possible drop in giving if a recession takes hold.

“Even if we get this virus under control, there will be several months of recovery for many people,” said Patricia McIlreavy, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. “Business will have closed, many families will have exhausted every reserve.”

Among the major charities bracing for future challenges is the Salvation Army, which says it annually receives about $2 billion in public support to serve about 23 million people living in poverty.

“We expect that service number to rise exponentially in the coming months," requiring "tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to support our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Dale Bannon, the faith-based organization’s community relations and development secretary.”

He said the Salvation Army, like many other charities, has been forced to cancel numerous fundraising events because of the outbreak. It is now focusing on online fundraising operations.

Canceled blood drives have been devastating to the American Red Cross, which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

In a statement Wednesday, the organization estimated that there have been 86,000 fewer blood donations in recent weeks because of the wave of blood drive cancellations at workplaces, colleges and other venues as people were told to work or study from home and practice social distancing.

Patients being treated in hospitals for the coronavirus do not generally need blood transfusions, but the worsening blood shortage could affect surgery and cancer patients and victims of car accidents.

Anticipating that blood drive cancellations will continue, the Red Cross pleaded for potential donors to support drives that do take place or for donors to visit its blood-donation facilities.

The group outlined additional safety precautions being taken, including checking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter locations and requiring staff to change gloves each time they interact with a different donor.

For the Girl Scouts of the USA, calling for a halt to in-person cookie sales was momentous, given that the sales net roughly $800 million annually and are the core of the organization’s fundraising.

Girls who had been selling cookies at booths outside stores and other locations were asked to focus on online sales instead.

“The risk of interaction with large crowds is just too great,” said the Girl Scouts’ CEO, Sylvia Acevedo.

The Girl Scouts are asking their corporate supporters to consider making bulk cookie purchases. A spokeswoman, Valerie Geiss, said it would be several months before the financial outcome of the sales campaign is known.

Many local Girl Scout gatherings across the country have been suspended, though some units are meeting online. The Washington-based Girl Scouts of Nation’s Capital said it will be hosting more than 40 “virtual troop meetings” next week, potentially serving about 5,000 girls.

The Girl Scouts were among the 21 nonprofits appealing to congress on Thursday for the $60 billion infusion of support for charitable organizations.

Their appeal said America’s charities employ 12 million workers, many of them working on the front lines of the coronavirus response.

“The financial impact of the crisis has put the very survival of many essential service providers at risk,” said Steven C. Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “Charities are our society’s shock absorber when crisis hits.”

At the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, McIlreavy says there has been a surge of requests from would-be donors seeking guidance on how to give effectively in response to the pandemic.

‘‘Folks just want to know the money is going somewhere where it's actually going to help someone,” she said.

Her center urges donors to be wary of misinformation and do thorough research of charities before making gifts. It identifies key areas that could interest donors: urgent medical response needs, long-term medical research and assistance to vulnerable people in the U.S. or abroad.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

For the United Way, a current priority is to strengthen and expand the 211 network that helps people who call the number to connect with providers of urgently needed social services.

Gallagher said 211 specialists have answered about 12 million requests annually, and he predicts there will be an additional 200,000 calls per day in coming weeks because of the outbreak.

Looking broadly, Gallagher believes there will be a surge in charitable giving for the next few months, and then a downturn as a weak economy takes a toll.

Big charities like United Way will get through it, Gallagher said. “The smaller nonprofits — houses of worship, soup kitchens — they will struggle."

Continue Reading Panhandle Post
Mar 25, 2020 6:30 PM
As offerings dwindle, some churches fear for their future

NEW YORK (AP) — As in-person worship services are canceled or downsized amid the coronavirus outbreak, some churches across the U.S. are bracing for a painful drop in weekly contributions and possible cutbacks in programs and staff.

One church leader, Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod, said some of the 190 churches in his region were unlikely to survive because of a two-pronged financial hit. Their offerings are dwindling, and they are losing income from tenants such as preschools which can no longer afford to rent church venues.

“As much as I’d like to help them, everybody's reserves are taking a hit because of the stock market,” Egensteiner said,

At Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore, a mostly African American congregation of about 1,100, the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr. bucked the cancellation trend by holding services last Sunday. But attendance was down by about 50%, and Gwynn said the day’s offering netted about $5,000 compared to a normal intake of about $15,000.

“It cuts into our ministry,” he said. “If this keeps up, we can’t fund all our outreach to help other people.”

There was a brighter outcome at the Church of the Resurrection, a large United Methodist Church congregation that operates out of five locations in the Kansas City area.

Cathy Bien, the church’s communications director, said about 25,700 people logged in to join online worship last Sunday after in-person services were canceled. That compared to normal Sunday participation of 14,000 worshippers -– 8,000 in person and 6,000 online.

“It blew our minds,” Bien said. “They were coming from all over the country -– a lot of Methodists from other churches.”

The huge turnout didn’t translate into a larger than normal offering, although the church is still processing checks that were sent by some of the worshippers, Bien said. She expressed hope that financial support will remain robust as the church stresses the need to bolster food pantries and other community programs in the face of COVID-19.

t Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, giving was down modestly last weekend as the church cancelled in-person worship and made the service available online.

The pastor, Walter Kim, said some of his roughly 1,000 congregants have grown accustomed to online giving in recent years, but many worshippers still give in person at the services - an option not available for now.

“We’ll be asking them to sign up (for online giving) or mail a check,” said Kim. He will be urging congregants to bolster the church’s “mercy fund” for use assisting hard-up members of the community as job losses multiply.

In addition to his pastoral duties Kim is president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 evangelical churches. The NAE will be co-hosting a two-day digital summit next week featuring videos from church leaders advising other pastors nationwide how to respond creatively and effectively to the virus outbreak.

The co-host is the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois, which already has offered resources to churches in response to COVID-19.

“Some changes are going to be required,” Kim said. “The church is a very creative institution. In the end it will find ways of fulfilling its mission.”

In Western Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has indefinitely cancelled all public Masses, and recently rescinded permission for parishioners to pray individually at their churches.

Funeral Masses were still allowed with a maximum attendance of 25; the diocese said the times of those Masses were not to be shared in the media,

“Lack of access to the churches and Eucharist is particularly difficult for many older parishioners whose entire daily routine is built around getting up, out of the house, and going to Mass,” said the Rev. Mark Stelzer, who has served in the diocese as a parish priest and college chaplain.

The Rev. William Tourigny, pastor of Ste. Rose de Lima Church in Chicopee, Massachusetts, said his parish had a solid financial foundation and expected it could maintain all programs and staff payroll for the time being.

“For smaller faith-based communities with little or no reserved funds, difficult decisions will need to be made,” he said.

Joe Wright, executive director of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network in Nashville said many pastors in the network have been holding regular in-person services, while monitoring the spread of the virus.

“Once the coronavirus rises to the level where it starts hitting smaller groups, then we’ll see even the smaller groups back away and seek ways to gather, probably electronically,” he said.

When that happens, Wright said, financial giving will depend on the church, especially the age of the congregations.

“Some churches with older congregations do not give electronically so the transition to that will be a little bit harder,” he said.

Ron Klassen, executive director of Rural Home Missionary Association, said it’s too early to say how the rural churches he represents are being impacted.

"My sense is that in the past, people rise up and, if anything, the giving might increase,” he said. “People are going to give. They’ll take care of their church and their community.”

In Baltimore, pastor Gwynn worries that tensions might rise past the point that church outreach programs can help.

“With all the uncertainty, I’m afraid this could turn into anarchy,” he said. “Not everybody’s patient. Not everybody’s law abiding.”

He even envisioned the possibility of a stampede toward the goods being doled out after church’s annual food drive.

“My biggest fear right now is what's happening to the minds of our people,” Gwynn said. “How long can we hold them together?’

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