The social sector’s needs have been on the rise for the past several years as increasing wage gaps, rents, and the cost of living came to a head with stagnant wages and little social mobility. With the economic turn as a result of Stay-at-Home and Quarantine mandates, nonprofits are experiencing a series of hits that are making it difficult for them to continue delivering much needed services. Not only are they struggling to respond, the challenges are compounding and likely include:
- Restructuring program delivery with remote staff who may not have been prepared technologically.
- Offering direct services safely with limited access to personal protective gear and continually evolving safety directives.
- Being responsible for a growing need as economic aftershocks shake many into poverty.
- Limits to in-person volunteer help that may have otherwise defrayed staff costs or increased program reach.
- Possible loss of alternate revenue streams because of the closure of social enterprises like thrift stores.
- And the increased competitive landscape for the donor dollar and decreased minimum giving requirements of foundations whose portfolios have shrunk.
Conversely, much of the American public is abiding by Stay-at-Home orders and may find themselves with more additional time than before and an outpouring of desire to help in their communities. For those who find themselves in that situation, here are some ideas that allow you to respect social distancing rules, while still lending a hand to our social safety net:
- Give blood. Because blood drives are cancelled and many regular blood donors have cancelled standing appointments, hospitals are facing blood shortages. Healthy individuals that meet donation criteria can safely donate blood at centers by making appointments online or by phone. Each center that is open is following strict health and safety protocols to keep the blood supply as well as blood donors safe.
- Support small businesses. Small businesses anchor communities and ensure that they have access to a variety of services. They also employ a significant percentage of our workforce, which if working, will help minimize demand on the safety net. Consider ordering gifts (and necessities) on Etsy, ordering no-contact curbside take-out from a local restaurant, or reaching out to your local specialty or ethnic foods market for grocery delivery options. You can take it a step further by donating what would have been spent on take out to Frontline Foods, which is matching local restaurants with opportunities to feed frontline facilities.
- If you are on the home organization bug, take some time to pull out your travel sized toiletries that you have likely collected over the years and donate them to food banks, pantries, and shelters. Many are also in need of extra cleaning supplies and non-perishable food items. Be sure to check updated rules of in-kind gift acceptance, however, before attempting to drop off items. Most organizations have had to adjust what they accept and how they will accept donations of goods because of limited ability to sort, store, and distribute the items. Only donate what they let you know is in need.
- Research virtual volunteering opportunities that you can do from your computer at home. For the operation side, many nonprofits have a backlog of data that needs to be entered, paperwork that can be scanned and digitized, and databases that could be updated. Reach out to your preferred nonprofit and ask if they have any virtual needs that you can assist with from home. LA Works and Good Deeds Day both have running lists of virtual volunteer opportunities that can be done from home as well.
- While programmatic needs for some nonprofits can only continue in person, some have been adjusted for remote delivery. From becoming a reading tutor to being paired with an isolated senior, Points of Light has a list of ongoing virtual programmatic needs from several national nonprofits you can peruse. Meals Together, created by the Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s, is also a great multigenerational pivot that anyone can appreciate and use.
- Send friends a letter by mail. While package delivery has increased, standard mail has significantly declined, and the US Postal Service is being threatened with more funding cuts. Not only will sending a letter in the mail help support the USPS, but also the connection of tactile letter writing benefits both the sender and the recipient during this time of geographic isolation. You can read more about how the USPS is a part of our larger social safety net here.
- Complete your census forms online. Because of social distancing, census workers are not able to door-knock like they have in previous years which will lead to dangerous undercounting. By proactively completing your form online, you help minimize the number of census workers who must put themselves at risk and help contribute to a more accurate count. Learn more about why an accurate count is critical in communities and for our social safety nets here.
- Donate money thoughtfully and if you’re in a position to, consider participating in the #ShareMyCheck stimulus check re-distribution. Outside of the pandemic, many nonprofits were operating with less than three months cash reserves. Like all businesses, many will experience insolvency and be forced to close their doors. Consider making a gift to the nonprofit that you want to be sure survives this crisis, and if possible, make a recurring gift so that the organization can reliably plan on some funds.
- Now is the time to be comfortable lobbying your representatives. Not sure who they are? Here’s an easy tool to look them up. Not sure why now? There is potential to see real structural change on a nationwide initiative for paid family leave and paid sick leave.
Lastly, if you are physically healthy and not isolating with others who would be at higher risk should you become an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, consider taking steps to volunteer in person. Food distribution sites, shelters, health care testing sites, and many other critical services need individuals willing to volunteer in person. You can find a list here.
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