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ASU survey finds state's nonprofits hit hard by pandemic recession

ASU Lodestar Center finds stories of resilience among nonprofits in crisis.
May 12, 2020

Lodestar Center poll finds increased need during crisis but plummeting revenue

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating huge disruption for many Arizona nonprofit organizations, which are seeing increased demand for services but plummeting revenue.

A new survey of 449 nonprofits released by the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University captured the profound effects of the crisis and the resulting economic distress after only a few weeks:

  • Nearly 80% reported a reduction in their normal services.
  • 11% of organizations are not operating at all.
  • Almost 40% of arts and culture nonprofits are not currently operating.
  • Just under 20% of nonprofits say they won't meet payroll in eight weeks.
  • Only 5% of nonprofits say they are operating normally.

The nonprofit sector is Arizona's fifth largest nongovernment employer, employing 1 in 16 workers and representing $8.3 billion in annual wages, according to the center's "COVID-19 Report."

“The through line is disruption,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the Lodestar Center and Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise at ASU.

“On the one hand, those involved in front-line services such as food insecurity, shelter services and emergency child care are seeing an increased demand for services, but at the same time there are difficulties around the volunteerism piece, with social distancing.”

Arts and culture nonprofits that depend on revenue from tickets, gift shop sales and on-site cafes are especially hard hit, as those institutions are closed during the shutdown.

“They have pent-up demand but no market,” Ashcraft said. “People can’t go to shows or museums.”

As everyone stays home and avoids crowds, events that raise significant funds for nonprofits have been canceled. In addition, the pandemic has driven unemployment to record levels, leaving many people unable to donate money.

The federal and small-business relief funding has helped some smaller nonprofits to avoid furloughs and layoffs for now, but those programs don’t help the larger entities such as Goodwill and the YMCA, Ashcraft said. To help keep revenue flowing, many nonprofits have held online fundraising drives and stepped up their communications with donors in hopes of staying afloat.

The Tempe Community Action Agency is a perfect example of what the survey results discovered: Demand is up, and the financial future is uncertain.

The agency is a front-line provider of food and shelter in the Tempe area and has had to not only help more people, but also find new ways to do it, according to Deborah Arteaga, executive director.

The TCAA food pantry has seen 800 new clients, and the agency increased the meals it delivers to schools from 150 to 500 per month, she said. The home-delivery meal program for house-bound older adults and adults with disabilities increased from 200 to 350 meals per day.

“Those are new clients that we expect to continue for the remainder of the year,” she said.

People also need help with rent. The agency’s emergency-rent assistance program, which can aid about 50 households a month, received 450 requests in April, up from the typical 300 requests. That’s an alarming indication of financial stress, Arteaga said.

“Usually a household will take care of rent before anything else. They want to keep their home,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, the agency pivoted. The Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, in which social workers assist low-income older adults, focused on food- and shelter-related errands, delaying nonessentials like yard work. Other programs, such as support for families with babies and employment assistance, switched from in-person to phone work.

Arteaga has seen a bit of a silver lining. While some of the agency’s older adult volunteers couldn’t come out to help, 45 new volunteers have signed on since mid-March.

“They have helped to fill that gap, and we could not do the work without them,” she said, adding that all volunteers follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, the Tempe Community Action Agency has gotten some emergency grants from corporate and community sources, and it has an online donation platform. There have been no layoffs or furloughs. But the financial future is uncertain.

“We are seeing donations coming in, and we’re hugely grateful for that that. Some people are saying they’re giving now instead of in the fall or around the holidays.

“But we did have a grant placed on hold,”  Arteaga said. “We’re focusing on the unknowns of the next fiscal year.”

Feeding Matters, a small, Phoenix-based nonprofit with eight employees, has felt the financial pinch.

“Our biggest fundraiser is supposed to be in October, but we didn’t feel comfortable putting money on the line when we don’t know what will happen,” said Jaclyn Pederson, senior director of programs and strategic initiatives.

“What if there’s a second wave or we’re not comfortable with 700 people in a ballroom? We may be able to think about adapting a little bit in the short term, but what does it look like in a month from now or three months or six months?” she said.

“And it’s not only the individual component of fundraising, but on the foundational and corporate side, we’ve seen a shift toward COVID-related relief.”

Feeding Matters raises awareness about pediatric feeding disorder, a condition in which children have trouble swallowing or must use a feeding tube. So it’s not a front-line nonprofit that provides food and shelter assistance, but it does support health care workers and families with children who have underlying health conditions or are immunocompromised, many of whom have had to strictly quarantine.

“Our constituents are very much affected by this,” Pederson said. “Our families have specialty food needs — and even specialty water — and when there was panic buying going on, there was a lot of increased stress.”

Feeding Matters has hosted virtual support groups for families and provided resources for feeding therapists on how to work via telemedicine.

“The biggest thing is what the new normal will look like,” Pederson said. “We’ll be transparent about shifts we’ll have to make because of financial resources.”

Ashcraft said the news isn’t all bad.

“There’s a gloom and doom to this data and I don’t want to be a cheerleader, but there are also stories of amazing innovation and adaptation,” he said.

“We want to be a place that captures that.”

On its website, the Lodestar Center has created a “Nonprofit Innovation Hub” page, where organizations are invited to share how they’ve made the best of this situation. In one example, a small food pantry in Safford bought beer from a closed bar, gave it to a bakery that was unable to source yeast, and then handed out the resulting loaves of bread to its clients.

Arteaga of the Tempe Community Action Agency agrees that the unprecedented circumstances have sparked creativity.

“What we’ve been excited about is this presents an opportunity to try new ways of serving the community, and the use of technology creates efficiencies we want to continue,” she said.

Food-box deliveries and meals-to-go for older adults are two services that had to be added because of the pandemic, but will likely stay.

“One plus that came out of this is a daytime resource center for homeless persons in Tempe,” she said.

“It’s a plan we were working on, but the pandemic emphasized the need to put it in place sooner rather than later, so we expedited the timeline and we’ll have that by June 30.”

Arteaga said the results of the survey are difficult to hear about.

“Nonprofits are the trusted organizations in communities that folks rely on,” she said. “When one nonprofit struggles, it creates a demand and we all suffer.”

The Lodestar Center will survey nonprofits again in June, Ashcraft said.

“As tragic as this pandemic is, there’s been disruption before and this field has shown surprising resilience because it enacts the purpose and passion that people care about,” he said.

“And that care doesn’t go away.”

Infographic on nonprofits

Infographic by Alex Davis/ASU

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU expands online tutoring services

ASU tutoring services available online, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Online tutoring to continue through ASU's summer sessions.
May 12, 2020

University Academic Success Programs has taken its tutoring services online, grown its offerings and hours

In news that will come as a surprise to no one, calculus can be pretty difficult. So can writing an essay, or applying the scientific method to a real-world problem. Thankfully, University Academic Success Programs (UASP) at Arizona State University can still help students with all of those things and more. Not only have tutoring services gone completely virtual since social distancing measures were put in place due to the spread of the novel coronavirus this spring, they will continue to be offered online indefinitely, including throughout the summer for sessions A, B and C.

UASP offers a variety of tutoring services: traditional, group tutoring sessions for subjects like math, biology and chemistry, where students can drop in and enter a queue to have individual questions addressed; one-on-one, appointment-based writing tutoring sessions; and supplemental instruction, in which a student who has completed a certain course with a grade of “A” provides tri-weekly review sessions specifically tailored to that course for students currently taking it.

While some tutoring services were available online before the COVID-19 crisis, supplemental instruction offerings were fewer and regular hours were limited to 3-10 p.m. Now, supplemental instruction offerings have expanded, and all services are available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

To make this happen, nearly 280 student tutors at UASP spent their spring break training via Zoom on how to provide digital academic support. 

“Just imagine being a college student on spring break and being asked to do this,” said UASP Director Ivette Chavez. Still, they rose to the challenge, and tutoring services were up and running at full capacity within three days of transitioning online. Since then, UASP has served more than 8,000 students, for a total of 19,518 site visits.

Chavez said the peer-to-peer tutoring model is part of the reason for UASP’s success.

“There’s a lot of research that talks about the benefits of the peer-to-peer model, but you definitely learn better when you teach something,” she said. “So the tutors are benefiting a great deal because they’re learning the material a lot deeper, and for the students being tutored, it’s less intimidating. There’s a level of comfort, and honestly, they just speak the same language and can relate a little bit better.”

All student tutors at UASP receive 10 hours of training before they begin tutoring, and they then receive an additional nine hours of ongoing training per semester. Among the things they learn are a variety of educational techniques, from those that benefit visual learners to auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic techniques.

Computer science senior Umer Ahmed has been working as a student tutor for UASP for three years, after having benefited greatly from the services himself.

“It was their help and the resources that got me through my first year, so I thought I would return the favor,” he said.

Ahmed tutors for several math courses and said the transition to tutoring online was fairly smooth, save for some expected technical issues.

“I’m glad that ASU took the opportunity to make sure tutoring services are still there in times of crisis,” he said. “It really speaks to the character and dedication of the university. We’ve had days where there have been 50 or more students in a queue. Students from Arizona and all over the world are dependent on these resources, and ASU is meeting that need.”

Social work graduate student Kathy Leger has been using the tutoring services for one-on-one writing help since 2018.

“I knew I needed help, especially with citing and references,” she said. “Once I started using the tutoring services for that, I found even more benefits. They can help you to polish a paper, or even completely rework it. They’re like mind readers, because after being inside of a project for a long time, I just lose sense of where I am, and they help me get back on track. Toward the end of writing a paper, my brain is like chip dip, and they’re able to clear through the muck and help me get it done.”

Beyond that, Leger praises the tutors for their suggestions of further resources that she can use on future projects.

“The tutors are just amazing, and the center itself has a lot of integrity,” she said. “There’s a real desire to be able to assist in any way they can, and it can make all the difference in the world. There have been many times when I’ve gone from a ‘D’ to an ‘A’ because of them.”

And for students who might be hesitant about taking the plunge and asking for help, Ahmed has some advice: “We’re your friends. You can come in and ask one question, or you can ask 10 questions. We’re not going to judge you. We’re here to help you. Your success is our success.”

Learn more on the University Academic Success Programs website.

Top photo by janeb13/Pixabay

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657