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Issues Of The Environment: 2020 Pandemic Economy Takes Toll On Environmental Non-Profits

Donna Murray-Brown
Michigan Nonprofit Association

Nonprofit organizations have been among those forced to adapt change and overcome survival challenges in 2020.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair called Donna Murray-Brown, president/CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. to discuss what was learned in 2020 and how that will carry forward in 2021.  



  • The economic shutdown and ensuing impact has been tough for many Michigan nonprofit organizations.  In many cases, giving is down, and the environmental sector is feeling the squeeze moreso than human service organizations.
  • Many groups that depend on earned income through education or other in-person means and/or in-person fundraising have been especially hard hit.  It takes time to pivot to new models.  Philanthropy has been stronger for groups that address basic human concerns like hunger, shelter, career retraining etc..., while donations to environmental organizations, where the need appears less pressing, are fewer.
  • The Michigan Nonprofit Association tracks giving trends, and notes a bright point: donations of less than $250 were up in 2020, which speaks of the generosity of Americans.  Overall, nonprofits are not closing at the same pace as local retail businesses, perhaps because the the stock market and endowments have stayed strong.

Brief Q&A w/ Murray-Brown

Are environmental nonprofits and conservation organizations seeing a reduction in donations?- Have they been overlooked?

Answer: YES.  Some organizations that could benefit from charitable giving include: Environmental justice organizations like EcoWorks and Ecology Center.  Frontline organizations include: Michigan United, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.  Watershed organizations: Friends of the Detroit River and Friends of the Rouge.

What is the outlook heading into 2021 for Michigan nonprofits?

Here is the link to our member directory where people can search by cause or county for charitable giving: Find a nonprofit to donate to →bit.ly/nonprofitfinder

COVID-19 and philanthropy: How donor behaviors are shifting amid pandemic (Overall giving behavior)

  • Most donors plan to maintain—or even increase—the amount they donate to charity this year.  Support from donors is needed to sustain nonprofits at any time, but it is particularly critical in times of crisis.  Our survey found good news for the nonprofit sector: a quarter of donors plan to increase their donations in response to COVID-19, while 54 percent plan to maintain their giving levels. Younger generations plan to step up their donations in greater numbers; 46 percent of Millennials say they will give more in response to the pandemic, compared to 14 percent of Baby Boomers and 25 percent of Gen X. Of those who say they will decrease their donations to charity, concern over a recession and the economy in general was a top trigger.
  • In contrast, volunteer activity is likely to dramatically decrease due to the pandemic.  State and local governments are urging residents to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus—which creates challenges for many nonprofits who rely on volunteers to deliver critical services.  Nearly half (47 percent) of recent volunteers believe the amount of time they volunteer will decrease or stop entirely because of the pandemic.  Older donors are more likely to say that their volunteering will decrease (61 percent of Silent Generation donors and 57 percent of Baby Boomers)—while 19 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of Millennials say they expect their volunteer time to actually increase.
  • Donors are most concerned about the way that COVID-19 could impact the ability of health- and human services-related nonprofits to do their work, but concern is high for organizations in all charitable sectors.  Under the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many donors’ first thought is for the health-related nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic and the safety net organizations that are serving our communities’ most vulnerable populations, with roughly 80 percent of donors reporting that they are concerned about these nonprofits’ ability to operate.  But no organization is isolated from the effects of the crisis—and at least half of donors are also concerned about organizations working in other areas, like the arts and environment. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/insights/how-covid-19-is-shifting-donor-giving.html)

Donna Murray-Brown

Donna Murray-Brown is the President and CEO of Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA).  She leads the strategic direction and overall operations of MNA’s body of work.  MNA is a statewide membership organization dedicated to serving the diverse nonprofit sector by offering services, resources, and systems nonprofits need to improve and strengthen their communities. (Source: https://mnaonline.org/who-we-are/staff#donna-murray-brown-bio)

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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