Written by Catherine Foley (Communications and Operations Associate)
It’s been one year since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States. The individual and collective trauma, grief, and fatigue caused by the pandemic have been exacerbated by ongoing anti-Black racism, the economic downturn, and increasing environmental disasters. While the devastation of this series of crises may subside, there can be no “returning to normal.” Nonprofits and our entire sector have been impacted and changed by the past year; now we must prepare for what is ahead.
WHAT WE KNOW
We know that communities of color, and by extension the organizations working with them, have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and overlapping crises. In particular, nonprofits led by people of color reported as early as spring of 2020 that they were losing vital funding as the needs of the communities they serve – and their staff members – increased. In October of 2020, we released On the Frontlines: Nonprofits Led by People of Color Confront COVID-19 and Structural Racism, which highlights the experiences of over 400 leaders of color and documents how they are responding to the pandemic by paving the way to a more equitable future, despite facing more barriers and challenges than white nonprofit leaders.
One recommendation that nearly every interviewee highlighted was the need for nonprofits, foundations, and the sector at large to commit to ending anti-Black racism. This means centering, supporting, and funding Black leaders, Black-led groups, and Black communities. We also identified the myriad ways that nonprofits have been pivoting to meet the changing needs of their communities and, in doing so, are filling the gaps left by ineffective government policies and systems. Finally, and unsurprisingly, we heard from women of color leaders on how the past year has taken an immense emotional, physical, and psychological toll. Women of color, particularly Black women, leading nonprofits reported feeling stressed, overwhelmed, isolated, and anxious with the rising demand on their time and mental health. One leader noted that in addition to the typical responsibilities of leadership, “there’s an extra expectation that we [women of color] show up as not just leaders, but like mom and sister, especially in a time of crisis like this one.” We know that women of color are bearing the brunt of these crises and it is the responsibility of all actors in nonprofits and philanthropy to create a culture of support, well-being, and sustainability.
RELIEF FOR NONPROFITS
The respondents in On the Frontlines did report accessing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans when the program was first rolled out in April 2020, but many noted that the process was unclear, inconsistent, and difficult. Now, at the one-year mark, it is important for US nonprofits to situate themselves within the current economic, social, and political moment. In particular, the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, that was passed by the Senate and is on track to be approved by the House of Representatives today, includes a range of provisions that impact US nonprofits, namely the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The expansion of eligibility requirements for nonprofits with 20 employees or less to apply for PPP loans could be incredibly significant, and bring much needed financial relief to POC-led nonprofits that often have smaller staffs and are historically underfunded.
There have been many changes in the past year, and even in the past week, both inside and outside the sector that will impact how nonprofits function, collaborate, and sustain themselves. Yet, even with the many changes and unknowns ahead, the sector can look to the leadership of POC-led nonprofits as well as listen to and meet the needs being voiced by leaders of color, so that we can all work towards building a more just and equitable future.
Want to learn more about On the Frontlines and hear how nonprofit leaders of color are charting a path towards systemic change, solidarity, and sustainability? Join us for a conversation on Wednesday, March 24th with four nonprofit leaders of color on how to ensure a just and equitable recovery.
Register in advance here: http://bit.ly/BMP-COVID-Webinar