Susan G. Komens More Than Pink Walk in Atlanta in 2018
Source: Susan G. Komen
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is usually marked by galas, walks, and other fundraisers.
It’s eerily quiet this year.
The Coronavirus pandemic posted or canceled these events online.
The impact could be devastating for nonprofits that rely on these funds, such as grassroots organizations that provide direct services to local cancer patients. Even large organizations aren’t immune, said Michael Nathanson, chairman and CEO of The colonial group, an asset management company.
“You get a hit,” said Nathanson, who recently wrote one open for CNBC about how the sector is slammed.
“The entire community will suffer from the hit they will take.”
Nathanson, a brain tumor survivor, understands how nonprofits work. He was heavily involved in several organizations and was previously chairman of the National Society for Brain Tumors.
Not only is fundraising declining due to canceled or virtual events, corporate donations have also slowed as many companies are currently in a defensive position, he said. Even nonprofits with strong, large donor pipelines will likely need to make adjustments.
That’s what Susan G. Komen, one of the largest and best-known breast cancer organizations, is standing up with.
Shortly after the pandemic, the organization decided to add its 60 field offices to its national organization to form a single unit. The result was a 23% reduction in staff. The remaining employees are all virtual, which helps reduce real estate costs.
“We have drastically reduced our costs and are now focusing on the things that matter, which is research and patient center services,” said Paula Schneider, CEO of Komen.
Komen has also postponed all of the spring walks for fall, which are now all virtual. It had to postpone its 3-day, 60-mile walk to next year.
Prior to the pandemic, Komen also diversified its fundraising drives, which helped. It also creates virtual patient navigation for those it serves and has set up its hotline.
“We have made more decisions in the last 120 days than in the last 15 years,” said Schneider.
Survival in small towns
New Jersey’s Minette’s Angels had their first fundraising walk in 2019
Source: Minette’s Angel
It’s the smaller grassroots organizations that are threatened with extinction, Nathanson said. Many of them are started in response to the loss of a loved one.
“You see a lot of these smaller organizations that don’t get press and that are very dependent on an annual drive or walk,” he said.
However, these smaller organizations play an important role and fill the gaps by providing services that may not otherwise be offered in the region or by larger organizations.
For Kenneth McKenna, President and Founder of Minette angelCommunity fundraising is the backbone of his local nonprofit organization based in Verona, New Jersey.
He founded Minette’s Angels in 2004, a year after his wife Minette died of breast cancer. The organization provides services for local breast cancer patients such as meals and gift cards for grocery stores, grants for mammograms for hospitals in the area, and grants for local students.
With the focus on Covid-19 these days, there are no direct fundraising plans. However, third parties are in the works like the annual cheerleading showcase hosted by the town’s high school team. Fortunately, the nonprofit had its first walk in the park last fall and had over 900 visitors.
“It was a big deal for us and put us in a position where we can go on our mission for a while and not have to fight and not worry about limiting things,” McKenna said.
Minette’s Angels also has little effort. It is fully staffed by volunteers.
A woman is given a mammogram.
Media for medicine | Getty Images
The concern of Komen and Minette’s angels is the constituency they serve.
For one, the virus has affected the daily lives of breast cancer patients and survivors.
“We’re seeing a greater need to meet people who are having emotional and financial problems,” McKenna said.
In addition, many women are still lagging behind on their cancer screenings, as demonstrated by the significant decline in diagnoses, Komens Schneider said.
While the recommendation at the beginning of the pandemic was to delay tests like mammograms, women must get them done now, she said.
“I expect there will be a very big boom in breast cancer,” she said.
What happens to the breast cancer organizations indicates what is happening in the nonprofit sector.
In the first few months after the pandemic, more than 50% of nonprofits said they saw or expected a decline in money or revenue for fundraisers based on Covid-19, a US government survey Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found.
Those who see an influx of donations are those like the United Way who can act quickly to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, said Sarah Nathan, assistant director of the fundraising school at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
“It is very likely that some organizations will sadly close their doors – those that have not invested in fundraisers or have not acted fast enough to adapt to our new environment,” she said.
To survive, Nathan suggests that nonprofits get creative with technology, such as running virtual wine tastings with wine delivered to your door. Working with donors and being less reliant on special events are also vital, she said.
However, if the pandemic-triggered recession drags on, more nonprofits may not survive.
One Analysis of CandidIn the worst case scenario, 28% of non-profit organizations were able to close their doors.
The impact is not to be underestimated, especially for nonprofits dealing with diseases like breast cancer.
“We’ll find a cure faster with the help of the nonprofit community,” said Nathanson.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.