When celebrating the Fourth of July in a couple of weeks, we should remember that the Declaration of Independence was more than our announcement to the world that we were free from the English Royal Crown. It was also our promise to ourselves of what we could and would be. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us in 1963:
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as White men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Echoing that insight during a commencement address in 1977, the late Representative Barbara Jordan observed: “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.” Yet here we are, almost 245 years since the promise was made – and signed with great flourish – with much work still to do to fulfill that promise.
We’ve made progress, albeit far too slow, with our federal laws. It took 86 years from the promise of our founders until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and a few more years for news of the end of slavery to reach Galveston. It took 144 years until the 19th Amendment secured the right of women to vote. And it took 239 years for the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that affirmed same-sex couples had the right to marry.
This month, we’ve celebrated those legal milestones of progress with Juneteenth as an official holiday, with women – whose voter turnout has historically been higher than that of men – voting in state and local elections, and with Pride Month. Yes, we’ve improved many of our laws. But what will it take to transform our individual and cultural attitudes so we can act consistently with the moral spirit of the original promises of 1776? Our BIPOC, female, and LGBTQIA family members, friends, and co-workers deserve no less, yet continue to experience racism, gender bias, and discrimination every day.
245 years is too long; we all need to take the personal and institutional steps to change ourselves and our culture to work toward an America that is as good as its promise. One in which each and every person is treated with respect and dignity, because all people “are created equal, ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This month’s newsletter focuses on celebrations, partial and full. We begin with a look back at giving in 2020 and what data from the Center for Effective Philanthropy and Giving USA tell us. Next, we detail how nonprofit advocacy provided nonprofits access to $350 billion in federal recovery funds, but how that might be lost without your immediate engagement. We conclude this month on a positive note with a celebration of Black music and the nonprofits that keep the volume of that music turned up.
What We Know About Giving in 2020
Nonprofit survivability looked bleak throughout most of 2020. In early 2021, “most nonprofit leaders report[ed] that the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative impacts on their organizations and has affected their programming, revenue, demand, and costs,” according to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Persevering through Crisis: The State of Nonprofits. Looking through the widest lens, we can celebrate that sector-wide revenues did not plummet as deeply as initially feared because “[i]ncreased financial support from foundations, individual donors, and the government— including Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding—helped nonprofits to fare better through 2020 than their leaders had originally anticipated.” Indeed, “[g]overnment support through the PPP played a big role in buoying the budgets of many nonprofits last year.”
According to the Giving USA 2021 report (regarding 2020 results), giving increased by 3.8 percent overall last year, which sounds terrific, especially in a year with an economic downturn. But individual giving increased by only one percent and, as the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported, individual giving actually decreased if you exclude the contributions made by MacKenzie Scott ($1.7 billion in July 2020 and $4.2 billion in December). When a small number of generous donors make “mega-gifts,” it can mask the overall declines in contributions by everyday people to the smaller, community-based organizations upon which so many people rely.
But those who focus solely on revenues miss the bigger picture of operational realities. Last year, many nonprofits incurred huge new costs (1) coping with the sharply increased demands by tens of millions more people than usual seeking assistance, and (2) protecting the health of their employees, volunteers, and the public by retrofitting their facilities and investing in personal protective equipment (PPE).
Moreover, even when donations technically increased over the previous year, those temporary boosts in giving often failed to keep pace with the increased costs, as shown by many state-based surveys conducted by our network throughout the pandemic, including some conducted this year. It remains to be seen whether last year's extra donations that seemed to surge to support the visible herculean work nonprofits did last year will be sustained, as there is still much work to be done before we can get to a new and better normal.
Nonprofits and State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds
As we all know, individual giving is not the sole, or even the primary, source of funding for the nonprofit sector. Last year, there was a significant new funding source: the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offered forgivable loans to businesses and – thanks to a lot of intense advocacy last year – nonprofits, too. Many nonprofits described this unexpected and sizable funding as a "lifeline" for their survival, which is certainly worthy of celebrating.
The PPP is now closed, removing a significant source of relief before we’ve fully recovered. That is why the $350 billion in funding provided to state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments through the American Rescue Plan Act is so important to nonprofits. Thanks again to advocacy by many nonprofits, state and local governments can spend some of their allocations both to pay nonprofits to deliver services and to help nonprofits recover from COVID-19 and its economic aftermath. But those funds are now suddenly at risk, as some on Capitol Hill want to reclaim that money to pay for the infrastructure bill or other priorities. Last week, the National Council of Nonprofits sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling on them to protect the funds for their original use. We encourage you to reach out to your Representative and Senators to share this letter and your own perspective on why those funds must be preserved for their intended use.
Yesterday, we rolled out a new Special Report you can use: Strengthening State and Local Economies in Partnership with Nonprofits: Principles, Recommendations, and Models for Investing Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. In addition to showing how much money is allocated to flow into governments in your state, this new resource contains principles and recommendations that can be shared with state and local officials on the importance of working with nonprofits to restore local economies. It also shares more than three dozen examples of current and recent programs being used across the country to provide funding for nonprofits to serve local communities. Take a look and see how the principles, recommendations, and models can be applied within your own communities. Share the report with your elected officials to build relationships and partnerships between the sectors.
This article published today by Nonprofit Quarterly, “Nonprofits Must Speak Up Now to Protect COVID-19 Recovery Funds,” ties the federal advocacy needed to protect these funds together with the state and local advocacy needed to ensure funds are invested in nonprofit missions. As the authors of the article conclude, “When we all work together, we all win.” Let’s work together to continue the economic recovery of our organizations and our communities.
Celebrating Black Artists
We’ve all been challenged this past year, personally and professionally. It’s important to take time amidst those challenges to experience something that brings you joy. For many, including your author here, music is one of those sources of joy. So we’re concluding this month’s issue with a celebration of music, specifically the music of Black artists, as June is Black Music Month.
Central to the celebration of Black Music Month are several nonprofits. At the nonprofit Motown Museum, you can visit Studio A, where Marvin Gaye recorded “What’s Going On” fifty years ago. The musical legacy within those walls, from the hits that the Holland-Dozier-Holland team created for the Four Tops, the Supremes, and others to many of Stevie Wonder’s early hits, might only be rivaled by Sun Studios and Abbey Road.
You can hear the music of the great Charley Pride, who tragically passed away from COVID-19 in December, and learn more about him from the nonprofit Country Music Hall of Fame. You can hear Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell duetting on “Wheels of a Dream” at the Kennedy Center. And no celebration of Black music is complete without the splendor of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with this rendition performed by the Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society.
This is, of course, only a miniscule sampling of the rich history of Black artists and the many nonprofits celebrating their past, present, and future. We’ll sign off with two more nonprofits offering rich information on Black Music Month for you to explore: the National Museum of African American Music and the New York Public Library.
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