Nonprofits are Facing an Existential Crisis: Businesses Can Help

By Deirdre White & Alice Korngold

An existential crisis threatens the effectiveness and sustainability of regional, national, and global nonprofits that address our most pressing needs. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit organizations, that have always driven themselves above and beyond to serve communities, are now facing exponential demands that far exceed their resources and capacity. The private sector can play a role in helping nonprofits weather this storm and address strategic and financial challenges, but needs to be mobilized to do so. At this particularly challenging time, corporations have an opportunity to encourage and support their workforce in helping nonprofits—through board service and volunteerism—to make powerful contributions in advancing the immediate effectiveness and long-term sustainability of vital community organizations. By supporting the involvement of their employees in nonprofit board and pro bono service, companies will also advance their own goals for leadership development, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability.

On any given day, the nonprofits that serve our communities are under-resourced in areas such as finance, human resources, technology, and other operational areas. As we walk through our neighborhood parks, attend schools, receive vital healthcare, and access jobs and training, each of us benefits from the services of these mission-driven organizations. Our families and communities depend on the hard work of nonprofits to pursue social justice, human rights, healthcare, housing, and education for all members of society. These and many more services are offered every day by nonprofit organizations that are now desperately struggling to obtain funding, stretch dollars to meet greater and greater demands, and comply with complex and time-consuming reporting requirements.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the threats facing nonprofit organizations; we are in danger of losing nonprofits that provide needed assistance and care to our communities. In March 2020, CAF America conducted a survey of more than 500 nonprofit organizations from 93 countries, regarding the impact of COVID-19.  Almost all (97%) reported that they are negatively impacted by the pandemic, with 68 percent already experiencing a decrease in funding. The lack of available volunteers, critical to many nonprofits, has staff facing significantly increased workloads—for some, double the hours.  Many, unfortunately, do not have the infrastructure in place to conduct their work remotely or provide services virtually.

We have seen the value that corporate volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations; now more than ever we have an opportunity to utilize cross-sector expertise to meet our current challenges. Just as we are asked to help “flatten the curve” by taking immediate measures to protect individual and community health, there are immediate actions necessary to keep the nonprofit sector alive and well. Nonprofits stand to benefit from the work of corporate pro bono initiatives and board service that have brought dynamic skills in strategic planning, cash flow management, fundraising, communications, crisis response, and human resources management to organizations that would have otherwise not have been able to afford these services. Addressing these and other challenges is urgent for nonprofit organizations to survive the revenue shortfalls and increased demand for services through 2020; an intervention is necessary to support service delivery to vulnerable populations and sustain vital services.

Volunteer matching matters.

Particularly in a time of crisis, the last thing any nonprofit needs is an influx of volunteers that create an additional management burden. Structure is key; any business that seeks to involve corporate volunteers in helping nonprofits, will benefit by working with an intermediary organization that purposefully and successfully places pro bono volunteers and board members. The emphasis is on “purposefully and successfully.” The value lies in making the right matches. This requires a professional assessment of an organization’s needs, an evaluation of the volunteer’s skill sets and interests, and a proper introduction and orientation. When it’s done right, the nonprofit gets the expertise it needs, the community benefits, the volunteer gets a rewarding and skills-building experience, and the company improves the community while developing its human capital.

Virtual Pro Bono can sustain social impact initiatives.

Until we obtain a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, we will need to reimagine volunteerism and the way we interact with vulnerable communities. One way to do this is for corporates to transition their traditional pro bono activities to virtual initiatives. Industry leaders have noted the value of pro bono experience for some time; through virtual social impact projects we can still harness the power, passion, and expertise of corporate volunteers to strengthen mission-driven organizations without leaving their own homes. Employee engagement and talent development goals can still be achieved through virtual models that engage a cross-section of a company’s employees and provide real and lasting benefits to the host organizations.

Nonprofit board service helps deepen the support of nonprofits.

Another way a company can enable their corporate volunteers to strengthen nonprofit organizations is through board service. When a corporate volunteer serves on a nonprofit board, they develop an understanding of the connection between the health of communities and their company’s success. Corporate volunteers deepen their empathy through service, while also gaining new perspectives from people of different backgrounds. The newfound enlightenment can provide them with the skillset necessary for problem solving and innovation back at work, forming more inclusive teams and committees, and hiring and promoting more inclusively. Business employees can bring meaningful value to nonprofits while developing themselves personally and professionally for their own benefit and the benefit of their companies.

The risk of inaction is simply too damaging to the many vital nonprofit organizations that support and sustain our communities. Corporations can effectively align their volunteer activities with the long-term view and value of their organization. As nonprofits continue to navigate the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus, we can act now to ensure their existence before it’s too late. The stakes are too high, and the benefits are glaringly clear that businesses can help nonprofits in this time of uncommon need.


Alice Korngold, President & CEO, Korngold Consulting LLC, provides strategy advisory services and facilitates leadership strategy retreats for board members and executives from multinational companies and global, national, and regional nonprofits. Her areas of expertise are ESG and sustainability, board governance, strategy, diversity and inclusion, corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and measurement and ratings.

Better World Leadership. Korngold published Better World Leadership (BWL), studies that provide evidence that nonprofit board service is an effective pathway for companies seeking grow value by advancing diversity and inclusion, innovation, and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). BWL studies in 2017 and 2018 are sponsored by American Express, Comcast, Dow Chemical, HP, Johnson Controls, PIMCO, PwC, Symantec, and Target. In partnership with IMPACT2030, Korngold continues to advance nonprofit board service with companies worldwide, including presenting findings of studies at the U.N. in the Fall 2018.

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