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May 27, 2020
Posted Under: COVID

Foraker’s President/CEO Laurie Wolf was invited to testify at an Anchorage Assembly work session focused on the impact of COVID to Anchorage nonprofits. The following is her testimony:

Thank you Chair Rivera and members of the Anchorage Assembly.

I am here today as President and CEO of The Foraker Group, which serves as Alaska’s nonprofit association and the capacity building organization for nonprofits and tribes across the state.

Before I jump into talking about the considerations that nonprofits need for relief I want to emphasize the critical role nonprofits play in Alaska.

Importantly, nonprofits are a major economic driver for our state and our city. We deliver essential services, leverage public funds for maximum impact through public/private partnerships, invest in our communities, and ensure community well-being and quality of life. Alaska nonprofits are an economic driver both as major employers and as revenue generators in our municipality and across Alaska.

No industry in Alaska can prosper without the strength of the nonprofit sector. We are part of healthcare, fisheries, tourism, and the oil and gas industries. We provide essential services such as early childcare, basic utilities, housing, and food security and arts and culture― just to name a few. We are the safety net across Alaska and across Anchorage. Every family in our state and community is the beneficiary of a nonprofit because nonprofits are woven into the fabric our communities. 

Nonprofits are businesses and during this crushing economic time we have to remember that our sector is experiencing this crisis alongside all other businesses.  We are in this economy and this pandemic together.

Specifically, we are seeing the impact on Alaska’s nonprofits in two ways:

  • An increased demand to adapt quickly and expand service and delivery options while losing volunteers, charitable and earned income revenue, and simultaneously spending reserves. Some of these groups are human service nonprofits who continue to face significant demand for their services as you are hearing about today. For example, domestic violence providers expect increases in the need for services; food pantries are reporting a 50-80% increase in food requests; and mental health nonprofits are reporting increases in patient numbers.
  • Organizations closed their doors in the name of public health and lost all revenue while needing to maintain missions, facilities, and cover their expenses. These are groups in arts, culture, tourism, education, and religion just to name a few. Many of these groups also saw their reserves disappear in the stock market and will see another hit with the loss of tourism dollars this summer.

Even before this pandemic, nonprofits were living on thin or no margins and those with reserves are now spending them to survive or scrambling to request philanthropic support that cannot fill all the gaps. Truthfully, without significant CARES funding and a generous outpouring of donations, nonprofits will face major changes, deep cutbacks, and some closures.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR RELIEF

As you work through the ways to improve our economy and respond to this pandemic, I offer you four considerations in your approach to the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits need a different but connected response to your efforts to support small businesses.

We must plan for the future we want to see in our recovery and beyond.

Funding can be for the immediate relief and also for systems change.  We don’t want to come out of this knowing that we didn’t spend time working on a plan for an improved Anchorage.  We also don’t want to emerge without support for existing work that makes our community thrive.  From arts and culture to human service to child care to the environment we need to take time to support groups now and plan and fund our future.

Nonprofits, just like our small businesses, will need support in two time frames and maybe even three.

  • They need support now for the adaptations to ramp up and serve Alaskans and to maintain their missions with closed programs and no revenue.
  • They will need support three-to-nine months from now because the PPP program will be over, most CARES Act money will be distributed, and our economy will not yet be recovered.
  • Those that rely on tourism, arts, seafood, and oil and gas will also likely need more support measured in years, not months, to recover from the impacts of this pandemic.

We need our economic response to be holistic and to recognize the direct and indirect ways that nonprofits are impacted and the ways they will be part of Alaska’s recovery. Specifically,  we encourage you to:

  • Recognize that many nonprofits do incredibly necessary work with no FTE staff. Unfortunately this creativity and flexibility is now being penalized in gaining access to some relief efforts.
  • Recognize that relief efforts are a puzzle that requires many pieces. Eliminating a group who gets one type of funding like PPP or EIDL is not a recipe for fixing what is broken.  Organizations need unrestricted operating support and quickly.

There is much more to say but I want to end on this note.  I urge you to say the word “nonprofit” in every communication you put out around relief and recovery.  When you only say small business you render our sector invisible.We need to be visible not just in the relief effort but in Alaska’s collective response and recovery. We appreciate that the Mayor is incorporating nonprofits into his work. We encourage all of the Assembly to do the same.

Thank you for your time and interest in supporting the nonprofit sector as an essential part of Anchorage and our economy. We stand ready to partner with you to ensure our sector and local government are working well together for all of our Municipality.