Budget concerns, creative solutions: Routt County nonprofits weigh impacts of COVID-19 in recent survey | SteamboatToday.com

Budget concerns, creative solutions: Routt County nonprofits weigh impacts of COVID-19 in recent survey

Fifty-five nonprofits responded to a recent survey asking them about the challenges they are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how the community could best support them.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Financial concerns and service limitations were among the most common challenges Routt County nonprofits have been facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey. 

Fifty-five organizations participated in the informal survey, conducted by an ad hoc committee associated with the Steamboat Springs Chamber. Tim Wohlgenant, the new executive director of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, serves on that committee and helped oversee the survey.

The results will guide future relief efforts as the community recovers from the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus, he said.

Two-thirds of the nonprofits said they have not been able to conduct fundraisers, a primary source of their revenue, according to the survey results. Those that have been able to host virtual fundraisers of some kind often do not see as much income compared to in-person events.

About half, or 47%, of respondents applied for and received PPP loans. Most of the others did not qualify for the loans or chose not to apply, according to the survey.

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“Basically, everyone who applied received funding,” Wohlgenant said, a fact he attributes to the work of local banks that were instrumental in securing the needed relief money.  

Since March, when Colorado enacted a statewide stay-at-home order, 14.5% of nonprofits said they have laid off workers or contractors. Another 18.2% said they have reduced staff hours. Organizations in the health and human services sector commented about seeing a rise in demand among clients but having less staff to help them.

Among the most frequently mentioned needs amid the pandemic, according to participating nonprofits, are operating support, grants, increases in the gathering size limit and help with the costs associated with personal protective equipment and sanitization.

In comments, nonprofits voiced concern over their long-term financial situation, particularly next year when the PPP loans are scheduled to run out. They also worried about how a ripple effect of budget cuts at all government levels could take additional blows to local nonprofits. 

“Unless there are some unified strategies, we will lose our musicians, performers, visual artists and the venues that hire them,” one nonprofit said in the anonymous survey.

One optimistic takeaway from the survey, Wohlgenant said, is that more than three-quarters of organizations said they have reserve funds to help carry them through hard times. Most of those with reserves, or 71.4%, said they plan to dip into the funds.

Another good sign, according to Wohlgenant, is how some nonprofits have pivoted their business models to navigate the restrictions of the pandemic. Almost half of the organizations said they have shifted to virtual platforms, according to the survey.

In light of this shift, several nonprofits cited the need for better internet service for rural households, so families can access virtual services.

“The lack of infrastructure has inhibited our efforts to stay connected with our interested donors and scholarship recipients,” one organization commented in the anonymous survey.

Other organizations, like LiftUp of Routt County, have implanted other changes to keep staff and customers safe. The local food bank now has a drive-up and walk-up service to avoid wait times for getting into the building.

The results of the survey, Wohlgenant said, will form the basis for a set of recommendations his committee will present to the Steamboat Chamber. Those recommendations will include potential policy changes, program assistance and other recovery initiatives.

Wohlgenant, who started as executive director for the Yampa Valley Community Foundation in May, said the pandemic also has changed how his organization operates. 

 “It’s really challenged us to get money out the door as quickly as possible to serve the greatest needs,” Wohlgenant said.

For example, the Community Foundation streamlined its application process and changed its rules to allow organizations to receive funding for operating costs.  

“We know nonprofits are really struggling, and we want to make sure we give them the money they need to keep the lights on,” he added. 

Though challenges remain in the weeks and months ahead, Wohlgenant is impressed with the county’s fortitude in the face of adversity.

“What’s been inspiring is to see how the community has come together around this challenge,” he said.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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