Some SC nonprofits meet fundraising goals despite pandemic, economic hardship | News

Even as many South Carolina nonprofits struggle to survive in the pandemic, others which deal directly with the coronavirus and its impact are achieving or even surpassing fundraising goals.

Donations for human service nonprofits are up 5.4 percent during the past 12 months and 9.3 percent during the second quarter of 2020 compared with 2019, according to the Blackbaud Institute Index, which tracks national charitable giving trends. Donations to all nonprofits across the country from May to August were down 8.3 percent from the same period a year earlier. 

Nonprofits that help fund human services, such as food banks and homeless shelters, have been able to meet or exceed fundraising objectives, despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

“The nonprofit sector isn’t a monolith,” said Robert Kahle, College of Charleston associate director at The Riley Center for Livable Communities, who surveyed hundreds of South Carolina nonprofit organizations in September and found similar results.

“The organizations that are providing the basic needs of folks like food, housing, medicine, have been doing much better in terms of fundraising as compared to other nonprofits like arts and cultural organizations,” he said.

The Blackbaud Index tracks nearly $31 billion at more than 7,000 organization in U.S.-based charitable giving. The index found that while overall giving is up 1.2 percent during the past 12 months, the second quarter of 2020 was especially brutal to certain nonprofit sectors.

Everything from animal welfare to the environment to medical research and higher education saw drops in donations of 5 percent to 32 percent from May to August. Human services was one of the few nonprofit sectors that saw an increase during that time frame.

“We definitely saw a downward trend beginning in March, it was as clear as day,” said Steve MacLaughlin, a senior Blackbaud Institute adviser. “The second quarter of 2020 was pretty rough overall compared to last year. The human services sector was up, but that’s to be expected.”

One80 Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston, received a 36 percent increase from private philanthropic donors during the 2020 fiscal year, which ended in June. In addition to the private funds, the shelter also received money from federal grants from the coronavirus relief bill, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Early in the pandemic, One80 Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston, reached out to donors for help and got an immediate response.

One80 Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston received a 36 percent increase in donations during the 2020 fiscal year. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Brad Nettles/

But it’s not like One80 Place is flush with money. Over the same period, the shelter saw a 23 percent increase in clients. The downtown facility suspended new admissions for several months at the outset of the pandemic, as the 130 clients were either moved into hotels or found housing in the community.

“There was a surge in homelessness, so the extra money helped, but we were spending it as quickly as we got it to meet the needs of our clients,” said Marco Corona, chief development officer for One80 Place.

While federal money came in during the early phases of the pandemic, Corona said he has seen a dip in private donations of more than 37 percent since July. He anticipates that the shelter will see a drop in funding for the 2021 fiscal year.

“I just think there’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” Corona said. “I think there is this feeling now that this isn’t going to end quickly like there was early on during the pandemic. We could be dealing with this well into 2021.”

Riley Center survey

The College of Charleston’s Riley Center for Livable Communities conducted a survey in September of South Carolina nonprofits and found that many were on the brink of financial collapse. Almost two-thirds of the state’s nonprofits had only months left before they ran out of money.

A total of 566 nonprofits responded to the survey, which was sent out on Sept. 1. The groups represented span the state and have operating budgets that range from less than $50,000 to more than $10 million. All nonprofit sectors participated.

Comparing two of those sectors — arts organizations and human services groups — shows major differences in how the pandemic is affecting specific types of charities.

Almost 85 percent of arts and culture organizations said they’ve seen funding decrease since the pandemic hit South Carolina, Kahle said. The survey found that more than a third of the human services organizations have seen their funding increase.

“It’s a hierarchy of needs effect,” Kahle said. “I think people and organizations see the need, and they want to fill that need.”

Kahle found that nonprofit groups that rely heavily on in-person events like galas, golf tournaments or oyster roasts are struggling the most.

“Nonprofits that depend on tickets sales are feeling the biggest brunt from the pandemic,” Kahle said. “If a group is relying on one big fundraiser for the year, well, those haven’t been happening. What those groups are also finding out is that virtual events are not nearly as effective. Any sector of the nonprofit economy that has focused on raising money through those event-based approaches are hurting.”

Kahle said nonprofits will have to adjust their approach to fundraising, which will have to include more online or virtual fundraising drives. It’s an area where MacLaughlin has seen significant growth over the past six months. In 2019, online donations made up around nine percent of total giving to nonprofits. That figure could jump to more than 10 percent in 2020.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is huge,” MacLaughlin said. “We’ve seen huge growth in on-line giving during the pandemic. It has experienced double-digit growth. I think what we’re seeing is a transformational moment in on-line giving and that’s only going to continue.”

Those yellow ducks

It’s one of the biggest charity events in the Lowcountry each summer.

The Rotary Club’s annual Duck Race, which is held on Daniel Island, raises about $200,000 each year. Over the past decade, the Duck Race, which features more than 30,000 rubber yellow ducks, has raised nearly $2 million for local nonprofits, ranging from education-based charities, to those supplying free meals and medical assistance.

The event was canceled in June because of the pandemic.

The Rotary Club Charity Duck Race is the largest fundraising event for the club. The Duck Race was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The club held a virtual event and raised more than $100,000. File/Staff

Normally, seven different Rotary Clubs from across the Lowcountry gather to help put on the event. This year, Daniel Island chapter had to go it alone. George Roberts, the Duck Race fundraising chairman, suggested the club set a goal to raise $100,000. He was nearly laughed out of the room.

“Without those other six clubs, no one thought we could do it,” said Roberts, who also works for the East Cooper Meals on Wheels.

Instead of seeing the thousands of yellow ducks race down the lake on Daniel Island, participants were asked to adopt a duck and donate money. In the end, the club raised $103,000. The biggest donor came from the Daniel Island Community Fund, which contributed $20,000. The fund comes from assessment fees from real estate transactions on the island.

“They didn’t think we’d come close to that and we not only reached our goal, but exceeded it,” Roberts said. “I think that’s a testament to the community.”

Other organizations have seen similar generosity. Trident United Way saw the need for assistance early in the pandemic. Requests for help with utilities jumped more than 600 percent from April to June in the Lowcountry.

In just two months this summer, Trident United Way raised $425,000 for its COVID-19 Relief Fund, the most in its 75-year history for one single event. That figure jumped to more than $500,000 by the beginning of October. The previous record for a single emergency relief fund came in October 2015 for the “thousand-year flood” when Trident United Way raised $401,000.

“We’ve seen the generosity of the Lowcountry come out since the pandemic hit,” said Caroline Byrd, the vice president of advancement for Trident United Way. “We are not anywhere near being through this crisis, and I see being involved with COVID adjacent issues for the next two to five years”

With the need for donations to keep nonprofits afloat so crucial, Kahle is concerned that charitable organizations will begin to experience “donor fatigue” during the final months of 2020.

“How long can individuals, corporations and the government continue to prop up nonprofits,” Kahle said. “Most of the money that charitable organizations raise is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Is that going to hold true, I don’t know.”

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