What’s next?

We might want to strike “normal” from our lexicon. Whatever “normal” may have been, it’s not coming back soon – so let’s also stop talking about the “new normal.” Generally speaking, “normal” isn’t how you come out of a crisis. But it certainly makes sense to ask “What’s next” as the crisis fades.

The financial impact has been massive – and will continue to reverberate. Economists can decide when it meets the qualifications for a recession or worse. Some businesses will not recover. And many larger companies will restructure to cut costs; that’s what normally happens during a significant economic downturn. But what about the nonprofit sector?

In an April survey by the NC Center for Nonprofits, 74% of the 674 respondents indicated COVID-19 was having a significant impact on their organization. These impacts included program or event cancellations (87%), disruption of service (76%), budgetary implications (75%), changing in-person events to virtual events (64%) and increased staff and volunteer absences (48%). None of this is surprising. But what’s next?

The most recent comparative financial event is the Great Recession. Some may need to be reminded that while business employment declined 7% between 2007-2009, nonprofit employment increased by 3% during the same period (US DOL, BLS). In fact, the nonprofit sector led in job growth versus the for-profit sector from 2007-2016 with a 16.7% increase versus 4.7% (Nonprofit Economic Bulletin, Johns Hopkins, January 2019). Similarly, the nonprofit sector recovered more quickly following the dot com recession (further affected by 9/11).

Response to – and recovery from – a serious crisis of any nature almost always includes significant efforts from the nonprofit sector. Here in the Triangle, we’ve already seen concentrated work to support those in the restaurant and hospitality businesses who have been sidelined, driven by individual donors, political and business leaders. School kids and families are being fed. Product lines are being altered.

Nonprofit organizations need to be thinking now in terms of what our community will need as we begin to responsibly “reopen” and emerge from this crisis. We need to ask ourselves what it is we are best equipped to provide. Finally, we need to determine what resources will be necessary – funding as well as human capital – in order to get the job done. That’s what’s next. It won’t be what was normal. It will be what’s necessary.