Nonprofits not exempt from coronavirus

Island nonprofits have a long road ahead of them, dealing with the pandemic aftermath.

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Connor McGrath works on artwork for future fundraisers for the Island Autism Group. — Courtesy Kevin McGrath

With the stock market taking a nosedive, and the federal government still working on how to help American families, there’s one group that will definitely take a hit during the coronavirus pandemic: Nonprofits. On Martha’s Vineyard, the M.V. Nonprofit Collaborative has already taken action to help the community organizations that help us. They are assembling information and resources for the more than 150 Island nonprofits, and compiling them on their website, mvdonors.org/page-18205.

Gerald Jones is the chairman of the board of directors of the nonprofit collaborative, and he has a lot of faith in the Island nonprofits, but he worries that they’ll experience a significant loss during the pandemic.

“Needs were growing before the virus hit,” Jones said. “The nonprofits were already serving more people than last year.”

Along with the typical financial need for programming, these nonprofits have staff to consider, he said. Even though staffing might be light for nonprofits, some staff are single parents who now have children at home because the schools have closed. The challenges for these organizations are happening across the board.

Many nonprofits rely on events to generate funding for staff and for their programs, and now with the coronavirus and social distancing getting more and more serious every day, those fundraising events are getting canceled. “If you get 25 percent of your budget from an event and that’s canceled, how do you get that money? The need isn’t going to shrink this year,” Jones said.

The nonprofit Island Autism Group planned two fundraisers in March — one at the Loft and another at Rockfish. The group is working hard to raise funds for a crucial need — a van so they can transport students with autism to IAG’s afterschool and summer program sites.

“The money we’re hoping to raise will be matched by a donor for another $12,500,” explained IAG board member and parent Kevin McGrath. “Altogether, we’d then have close to what we’ll need to purchase a new van. The van will be used to get our members from school and home to activities around the Island.”

Ironically, McGrath wrote in an email, “social distancing” is a state of being for many people with autism, but they need support practicing social skills. This new pervasive uncertainty and disruption is amplified for autistic kids and adults, most of whom thrive on routine.

IAG president Kate DeVane said that students with autism who live at residential schools off-Island are in limbo right now — some schools are on lockdown, so parents cannot get their children and bring them home. And the Island is experiencing tighter travel restrictions on what seems like a daily basis, so even if they could pick up their children, it might be difficult to transport them back home. And if parents have a student with autism or another disability staying home from school, there aren’t a lot of resources for them. There is a lot of information available for parents who have typical children staying home, not so much for those with autism, DeVane said.

“If IAG had funding to give directly to families, that would be a big help,” she said. 

With the two upcoming fundraisers canceled, IAG is relying on its Facebook campaign, which offers T shirts for sale that feature a big blue whale with the words “Moby (Bad Word)” printed underneath. 

There’s a story behind this newest fundraising opportunity. Board member and artist Traeger di Pietro was spending time with Connor McGrath when they had a conversation that Di Pietro recalls as he spreads the word about the fundraiser: “I told my friend Connor (who is 16 and a member of the Island Autism Group), that I liked the whale on his shirt. I asked, ‘Hey, buddy, is that Moby Dick on your shirt?’ and giving a politically correct and polite response, he said, ‘Yes, Traeger, it’s Moby (Bad Word).’”

Di Pietro is hoping that the T shirt campaign will bring some much-needed funding to the IAG.

Nonprofits will have to create new ways to increase their bottom line in this era of uncertainty, Jones said.

“I’m very impressed with how quickly the nonprofit organizations have regrouped,” Jones said. “They have regrouped, because most had 2020 plans figured out by the end of December. Boards have met, staff has met, and they’re putting in place a plan B, because they are all facing this … and folks they generally serve are getting a double whammy; their needs are growing, so the gap is growing.”

On the Island, Jones said he’s seeing donors and funders challenged by the stock market news, but they are participating in “straight talk” with the nonprofits they support. Donors and nonprofits across the country are thinking of different ways to make fundraisers happen, he said.

“They’re in the process of getting very creative in doing those events,” he said. “There’s a nonprofit in Ohio that gets 25 percent of its revenue from one event, and did it virtually.” They used Zoom and had a video fundraiser, complete with black ties and formal dresses at home, and they raised more than the year before.

“The problem is serious, and it’s going to get worse,” Jones predicted. “This is my editorializing, but the nonprofits have a huge role to play in our society’s health, and they’ve already taken a huge whack, so the challenge is how to play their role and step way up, and that has implications for the donor world.”

Jones has a suggestion: “If you’re a reader and care about the Island, and you feel like you can do more, then reach out to the folks you are already engaged with, and if all else fails, email me.”

For information about Island nonprofits, visit mvdonors.org. To reach out to Gerald Jones directly about how to support an Island nonprofit, email him at geraldsj@gmail.com. To donate to the Island Autism Group to help them purchase a van, visit islandautism.org, or to purchase a “Moby (Bad Word)” T shirt, go to bit.ly/MobyTbyIAG.