How are nonprofit organizations being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Project Summary

In collaboaration with North Carolina's Office of Strategic Partnerships, we launched a statewide survey of North Carolina nonprofits. The survey included over thirty questions about a range of topics, such as the organization’s area of focus, size of staff and budget, challenges related to COVID-19, and areas of need. The results will help empower decision-making by government, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations about how best to respond to the pandemic.

Why is this issue important?

Nonprofits and philanthropies found themselves responding to COVID-19 almost as soon as the pandemic began. State and local governments were also involved immediately, assessing needs and working to identify the most appropriate responses. Unlike many disasters, however, COVID-19 has no boundaries. It presented—and continues to present—seemingly endless challenges and needs, many without clear precedent. There was an urgent need for information about how the nonprofit community was experiencing the pandemic, which could in turn inform short- and long-term decisions related to COVID-19 by government, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations themselves.

What did we do?

On May 20, 2020, we launched a statewide survey of North Carolina nonprofits. The survey included over thirty questions about a range of topics, such as the organization’s area of focus, size of staff and budget, challenges related to COVID-19, and areas of need.

What did we learn?

Chart illustrating how COVID-19 has impacted the operations of nonprofit organizations across North Carolina
Respondents rated statements about how COVID-19 has impacted their operations. The following figures explore responses overall as well as split by whether the organization: serves rural, serves urban and suburban, or serves rural, urban, and suburban counties; has existed for fewer or more than 10 years; has 0, 1-4, or 5 or more staff; and has a budget less than $100,000, between $100,000 and $1,000,000, or more than $1,000,000.

Over 2,000 people responded to the survey, providing a nuanced picture of North Carolina’s nonprofit sector during COVID-19. Virtually all organizations (94%) experienced disruptions in their operations. Many were severe including 1 in 10 fearing they may be forced to close in the next six months. Though perhaps the most notable theme is how varied were organizations’ challenges and needs.

To accommodate the diversity of organizations, a key goal of this project was making a searchable database of responses publicly available. You can explore the file to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on individual nonprofits, types of nonprofits, or nonprofits from particular areas of the state. You can also read and learn from nonprofit organizations’ written descriptions and explanations of their experiences, challenges, and needs during COVID-19.

Bar graph illustrating how COVID-19 has impacted the future of nonprofit organizations in North Carolina
Respondents rated statements about how COVID-19 has impacted their operations and expected future. This figure plots how many organizations “slightly agree[d],” “agree[d],” or “strongly agree[d]” with each statement, on a 6-point Likert scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

What happens next?

The database of results is publicly available to help empower decision-making by government, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations about how best to respond to the pandemic. Already, a variety of resources and training have been (and continue to be) created to meet the needs raised by the responding nonprofits (see, for example, curated list of resources).

If you’re interested in replicating this survey in your state, please contact us at thepolicylab@brown.edu.

What happened behind the scenes?

Determining how to invite all non-profit organizations to participate in the survey was a challenge, since North Carolina (similar to most states) does not have a comprehensive, up-to-date registry of its non-profit organizations. To troubleshoot this problem—and to our knowledge conduct the first truly statewide survey of nonprofit orgs in NC—we merged files from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Business Master Files (BMF) of 501(c)(3) Exempt Entities and the North Carolina Charitable Solicitation Licensing (CSL) registry. Check out Appendix C (page 28) of the full report, to get into the methodological weeds.


How to cite this Project: The Policy Lab. (2021, February 20). How are nonprofit organizations being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?. The Policy Lab. https://thepolicylab.brown.edu/projects/north-carolina-non-profit-survey

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