Ohio nonprofits still fear for the future

A socially-distanced audience enjoys a DPAA live in-theater performance at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED/ANDY SNOW

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A socially-distanced audience enjoys a DPAA live in-theater performance at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED/ANDY SNOW

Ohio’s nonprofit organizations are in better shape than they were at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most are still worried about declining revenues and donations, while some fear they will have to shut down their operations indefinitely, according to the results of a recent survey.

The survey included several Dayton-area nonprofits, including Fairborn FISH Food Pantry and Dayton Live.

In general, nonprofits are more optimistic than they were in earlier surveys, and most survey respondents indicated their concerns related to the pandemic are decreasing.

In all three iterations of the survey, one of the nonprofits’ primary concerns has been disruption to their services, said Erynn Beaton, assistant professor with the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, and one of the study’s authors.

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Even when nonprofits said they are worried about funding, they are mainly concerned that they will no longer be able to serve the community to the same extent, she said.

“Nonprofits’ biggest concern is for their beneficiaries — our communities,” Beaton said. “They want to be able to do their work of gathering us together and providing vital services.”

Dayton Live, a local performing arts nonprofit, makes about 85% of its money off ticket sales and rental and ancillary income, said Ty Sutton, president and CEO of Dayton Live.

The unknown impact of the pandemic was the most difficult part, Sutton said.

“The most challenging COVID business problem is the unknown timeline and ongoing impact,” he said. “The Victoria Theatre is over 150 years old, and has been through multiple pandemics and gave us confidence that at some point we will get back to gathering again.”

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Sutton said they’ve been able to sell out their shows, and are working to hire people back as they return to their programming.

More than 3,000 public charities in Ohio responded to a “wave 3″ survey designed to evaluate the needs and challenges of the state’s nonprofit sector during the coronavirus public health crisis.

Two previous surveys were completed last year (waves 1 and 2), and partners on the project included the Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section, Philanthropy Ohio, the Ohio Association for Nonprofit Organizations and authors from The Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University. In the newest study conducted this spring, they found:

  • About three-fourths of Ohio’s nonprofits are somewhat or very concerned when looking ahead about revenue losses and declining donations.
  • About 40% of public charities that employ staff are concerned about having to lay off employees or shut down operations indefinitely.
  • More than half of the nonprofit groups that took the survey do not have staff (57%).
  • Nearly one in three organizations with employees cut or furloughed staff during the public health crisis and some think their staffing reductions will be permanent.
  • Employment in the sector is down more than 4%, compared to prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • More than two-thirds of nonprofit organizations are providing services and programs in either a moderately reduced capacity (34%), a severely reduced capacity (25%) or not at all (9%).

The vast majority of nonprofits are small and many don’t have employees or offices, such as parent-teacher organizations, youth sports leagues, community arts groups and quilting clubs, Beaton said.

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Ohio is home to 41,735 public charities, nearly two-thirds of which are non-reporting that often are smaller organizations with less than $50,000 in gross receipts, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which is a project of the Urban Institute.

The number of registered public charities in Ohio has dropped in recent years, declining more than 4% between 2019 and 2021, the center said.

Nonprofits continue to play a vital role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and helping communities recover, said Faith Mitchell, an institute fellow with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute.

“They know the issues, they know the people they’re working with,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk these days about community-based solutions and community-driven solutions ― well, nonprofits are ... the ones who are really working with people day-to-day and understand what the needs and priorities are.”

But many nonprofits depend on people using their services, she said, and the pandemic has caused some groups to lose their client base, while others may have seen changes in giving and philanthropy.

Jane Doorley, who co-manages Fairborn FISH Food Pantry with her husband, Bill, said while the demand for food has fallen some, the amount of donations that they’re getting has also fallen. While the amount of people they’re serving since the beginning of the pandemic has declined, Doorley, said the pantry is still seeing more people than they saw pre-COVID-19.

Doorley said the pantry has been lucky as they work with multiple churches and other organizations in the area. But they’re still in need of donations, she said, especially of food and items like diapers, hygiene products and cleaning supplies.

“When you’re a family that’s kind of barely getting by, trying to orchestrate two part time jobs at fast foods, and then you lose those jobs, bills really pile up,” Doorley said. “And just because you’re able to get that job back, you’re still kind of trying to play catch up and it’s not easy.”