Nonprofits get creative amid pandemic

Jun 15, 2020

Like people and businesses, many nonprofits statewide had to shut down offices, services, and events in March to help slow the spread of coronavirus. As things have opened back up, the nonprofits have a few more stressors than businesses may, including keeping up donations and volunteership.

Nonprofits in Alaska run the gamut from arts and culture-focused, such as the Kenai Fine Art Center, to life and safety, such as the Ninilchik Fire and Emergency Service Department and the peninsula’s two hospitals. While some make money through shops or contracts, helping to support their services, others rely on fundraising and community support. Those may be harder in the future.

Hospice of the Central Peninsula, based in Soldotna, helps provide end-of-life support. Volunteers go into clients’ homes and provide respite for caregivers, allowing primary caregivers a break and providing companionship for the client. Or at least, they used to. It’s been harder since the pandemic began in March.

Janice Nightingale, Hospice’s executive director, said volunteers have been hesitant to go into clients’ homes, mostly because they’re concerned about bringing the virus to an already vulnerable person’s home.

"The things that we do are important, and they can be done with physical distancing," she said. "So if we can get into the home—we can do it. At this point we can do it because there’s not quite the tight lockdown there was in March, April, May. If we can get the clients to agree and we can get the volunteers to agree, we can match people up. It’s just finding the people."

Hospice’s services are free to clients and so the organization relies on donations to pay its staff and keep operations going. In the past, the organization has hosted several large fundraising events, including a Root Beer Run and annual wine tasting and auction, but those types of big events might still be off the table when they roll around because of concerns about the virus. Nightingale said Hospice is concerned, given the impact of the pandemic closures on businesses and people in the area, and the smaller PFD being issued July 1.

Nonprofits statewide are trying to come up with creative ways to continue fundraising and operating while the economy tries to recover amid the pandemic. Laurie Wolf, the president and CEO of the Foraker Group, said with the downturn in various state industries, there are both short term and long term concerns for nonprofits.

"Recovery in Alaska—this has hit our tourism industry so hard, and our oil and gas industry, which our state budget is reliant on," Wolf said. "We’re talking about our recovery being in years, not months, not days. I do think we all have to be thinking about long term strategies."

One of the shifts Foraker is helping nonprofits with is taking their events and connections with communities and donors online. Wolf said that’s something they were doing even prior to the pandemic, though it looks different for every organization.

"Saying, 'Well, we can’t do that event and therefore we can’t raise money'—I think Alaskans are more creative than that and I have hope that this is the learning from this moment, that we can be more creative and that as a result we can be more connected to our donors," she said.

Wolf said volunteership is an issue, too, as many volunteers may be older and therefore at higher risk for the coronavirus. Nightingale said Hospice won’t be able to hold a new volunteer training until the fall, but is looking for more people who might be able to volunteer as well, including for the upcoming Camp Mend-A-Heart, which they host for children who have experienced loss.

Alaskans will be getting a $992 Permanent Fund Dividend on July 1, about three months earlier than usual. The Pick.Click.Give deadline has been extended to Wednesday, June 17, for people to donate to charities of their choice.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at