COVID-19 Survey Results

NFF conducted a brief survey of nonprofit leaders to help inform what funders and investors can do as we all look at how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and recover and build resilience afterward. Survey data and leaders’ stories from the frontlines can be used to advocate for actions that will ensure nonprofits can continue to provide vital services that enrich the wellbeing, health, and safety of people across the United States.

The survey was open from March 18-23, 2020; 465 respondents from all nonprofit sub-sectors and states shared their immediate and long-term needs to keep their doors open and keep serving clients.

See below for results and responses about:

Snapshot of National Findings

The survey asked, “How is your organization impacted by the growing health and economic crisis?” with options for respondents to mark “currently experiencing” or “anticipating (for later in 2020)” in the following categories:  

  • Significant increase or decrease (25% or more) in usage of our services  
  • Increased or decreased revenue (earned, philanthropic/donor, and government) 
  • Staff and/or volunteers with limited or no availability due to disruptions in child or dependent care 
  • Destabilizing conditions that threaten the long-term financial stability of the organization  


Demand for Service

Nonprofits are experiencing significant changes in demand for services. Rapid or unexpected changes in demand create specific challenges for nonprofits.

Unlike for-profit businesses, the clients of nonprofits are not usually the ones who pay for services; that payment comes through fundraising. So if demand rises significantly, nonprofits may struggle to meet the needs of their clients and communities, leaving people without access to critical services.

Chart showing that 17% of respondents are experiencing a significant increase (25% or more) in demand for service; 31% are anticipating for later in 2020

If demand decreases unexpectedly, nonprofits may be faced with financial hardship if their revenue is dependent on receiving reimbursements or income based on the number of people served.  

Chart showing that 61% of respondents are experiencing a significant decrease (25% or more) in demand for service; 32% are anticipating for later in 2020

Here's what a respondent had to say:

"We serve older NYers, many of whom are now totally homebound. We had 22 new intakes between Monday and Tuesday and had already had a waiting list of 250+ and have had difficulty filling staff vacancies, due to low salaries. Right now we are continuing to serve our clients as best we can remotely and by telephone. We will need funding to increase our technology abilities, and will need emergency funding to hire more staff. We have also had a very hard time getting masks and hand sanitizer for the staff who continue to work with this very vulnerable population."
– New York human services nonprofit


Most respondents who earn revenue from products or services (such as tuition or performance tickets) are seeing a reduction in earned revenue.

Chart showing that 75% of respondents are experiencing reduced earned revenue and 57% anticipate later in 2020; 3% are experiencing increased earned revenue and 9% anticipate for later in 2020

"With a reduced number of paying clients, and more people needing help with improving their health with diabetes, we will have to increase our free services which will make it almost impossible to pay our bills and keep our doors open. People are out of work, relying on quick and convenient foods which can have a negative impact on blood sugar and will need our help even more in the future."
– South Carolina health nonprofit

Most respondents are seeing reduced philanthropic revenue/donations.

Chart showing that 50% of respondents are experiencing reduced philanthropic/donor revenue and 58% anticipate later in 2020; 6% are experiencing increased philanthropic/donor revenue and 16% anticipate for later in 2020

"As an Arts organization, I am preparing for a drastic reduction in donations, grants, etc. as funds and donations are redirected to basic needs, healthcare, etc. This will result in major layoffs/unemployment for staff, which will require them to be in need of more basic needs, etc. Long term, this may completely wipe out my organization."
– Pennsylvania arts and culture nonprofit

And some respondents are experiencing reductions in government revenue.

Chart showing that 27% of respondents are experiencing reduced government revenue and 35% anticipate later in 2020; 2% are experiencing increased government revenue and 14% anticipate for later in 2020

"We are currently experience a major disruption in operations, but not state funding. Federal funding is a mystery in these conditions, as we are unable to implement our Title I plan remotely. Guidance on federal fund usage would be helpful. Suspension of loan payments and interest would be helpful as we are possibly going to have fewer federal dollars coming in. We are committed to maintaining payroll for all employees for as long as necessary."
– Rhode Island education nonprofit

Staff and Volunteer Workforce

Nonprofits are struggling with staff and volunteer availability.

Chart showing 56% of respondents are experiencing limited staff availability, 33% anticipate for later in 2020; 43% are experiencing limited volunteer availability and 28% anticipate later in 2020

"[We need] support for staff that can't work from home due to the nature of their duties and therefore [are] missing key income to manage their home and families. Sick leave for two weeks is okay for when one is actually sick but how [do we] compensate staff who are themselves in vulnerable groups to stay home before they are sick."
– Oregon education nonprofit

Long-term Instability

Nonprofit leaders are worried about the future of their organizations.

Chart showing 60% of respondents are experiencing destabilizing conditions; 64% anticipate for later in 2020

"I'm hoping we are still here after all of this is over. I'm not sure how long I can keep my doors open. My staff lives paycheck to paycheck as it is and we do not have health insurance. We would love to close our doors but I know my employees need the money to provide for their families. Some have small children and some are taking care of elderly parents."
– Georgia housing/shelter nonprofit

What do nonprofits need most right now?

We asked organizations: “NFF is working with funders and investors to advocate for how money and other resources can be deployed most equitably and usefully during this time of crisis. What resources or guidance would be most helpful to you?”

Here are the most prevalent themes we heard:

Nonprofits need flexible funding or general operating support. 

"It would be very helpful if funders would relax restrictions and allow us more discretion on how funding must be spent so we can better address a client's urgent needs. For example, homeless prevention funding intended for rent assistance might restrict assistance to those with an eviction notice. Since local Clerk of Peace courts are now closed, no eviction notices are forthcoming but without assistance, past due rent will mount resulting in insurmountable rent debts, a glut of eviction notices and increased homelessness when courts reopen."
– Delaware human services nonprofit

"Unrestricted operating support set at 10% of annual organizational budget. $5 million budget = $500,000 general operating grant. I think the most useful guidance might be directed at foundations and corporation funders to go outside their comfort zone. Boards tend to be conservative, but now is the time for bold action that may even feel "reckless" to button-downed foundation board members or family office executives."
– New York aging nonprofit

Nonprofits need access to immediate funding for urgent needs.

"Reduce processing time. There's no reason we should have to physically mail paperwork after already signing online. Drop funding directly in our bank account via routing and account number in lieu of mailing."
– New Jersey civil rights/advocacy/civic engagement nonprofit

"We need emergency funding for clients who are undocumented and do not qualify for unemployment or other government support."
– California human services nonprofit

Nonprofits need to be able to take care of clients and staff during this crisis.

"[We need] creative ways to serve vulnerable clients seeking safety remotely and finding emergency housing for those who need to escape an unsafe living situation; different revenue sources to replace funds that would have been generated through events."
– California human services nonprofit

"[We need] the ability to pay low-wage workers when clients have cancelled their in-home services. Funds for consultants and help if we have to shut down programs - exit money."
– Arizona human services nonprofit

Looking Ahead

We also heard concern from nonprofits about what their clients’ lives will be like in the new normal.

“In terms of our clients, we serve low-income and homeless families and individuals. We know from [decades] of serving these populations that they are the first to feel the impacts of economic slowdown and among the last to benefit from a recovery. Organizationally, we have grown significantly over the last three years as a result of Measure H in Los Angeles County. Because of that recent, rapid growth, we are uniquely vulnerable to disruptions in both public and private revenue resulting from the current unprecedented circumstances.”
– California housing/shelter nonprofit

“We support families caring for seriously ill, injured or disabled children. They already struggled to work enough to pay their bills and now many of them will be out of work for a long period of time which will be devastating to them.”
– Pennsylvania human services nonprofit

Important Calls to Action

Funders, investors, and individual donors can help most by giving unrestricted funding that is delivered fast — or by converting existing, restricted funding to unrestricted. And for foundations: consider giving more from your corpus. This is an unprecedented crisis, and the nonprofit sector needs you now to keep doing its work and to survive this time. 

Click here for COVID-19 tools and resources for nonprofits, and join our mailing list to receive the latest insights from NFF on ways to navigate these uncertain times.