Florida nonprofits struggle for balance as COVID-19 drops donations and increases need for service

Posted at 7:18 PM, Mar 25, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s nonprofits are asking that if you can donate, do so. They are suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trouble comes as the economic downturn forces more people to save money, leading to a drop in donations. Meanwhile, the need for nonprofit services is on the rise.

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“People that two weeks ago were food secure are standing in a very uncertain day today,” said Monique Ellsworth, Second Harvest of the Big Bend CEO. “It might be dire next week.”

Donations for Ellsworth’s food bank have almost completely dried up in recent days. Her biggest supplier is grocers who no longer have overstocked products to spare.

“We’re having to dip in our budget in ways we weren’t expecting to,” she said. “We’re also reaching into our community to ask them to support us.”

Similar cries for help can be heard across the state and nation.

Experts with the National Council of Nonprofits fear COVID-19 may be on the path to creating a charitable crisis up to 100 times worse than the ’08 recession.

“We’re just devastated,” said Rick Cohen, National Council of Nonprofits COO. “We’re just in the initial days and we’re hearing from a lot of nonprofits that they may be closing their doors.”


Cohen says nonprofits make up a bigger part of the nation’s workforce than many realize, more than 12 million jobs. That’s higher than US transportation and manufacturing.

The danger of losing those jobs and the goods those nonprofits provide has Florida Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried urging people to give if they can.

“This is the time that we as a state rise to the occasion,” Fried said. “We do this every single year during hurricane season— now more so than ever we need to support nonprofits that are going to be stepping up to the plate to feed our state.”

Florida’s Philanthropic Network and others are taking the plea to Washington D.C. Alongside national advocates, they’re urging Congress to help with a forthcoming stimulus bill, wanting $60 billion in emergency funding among other provisions.

If secured, those dollars could keep nonprofits like Second Harvest more focused on feeding rather than funding.

“We stand here to make sure that we can be that safety net and we can stand in that space of uncertainty with our community,” said Ellsworth.

The stimulus bill is nearly complete with the White House and Senate supporting the latest language. In it, supports say some wins for nonprofits, including better access to loan programs and allowing more to deduct donations from their taxes.