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Struggling To Survive The Pandemic, Utah's Nonprofits Are Banding Together For Support

Photo of Pioneer Theater Company
Wikimedia Commons
Show cancellations meant the nonprofit Pioneer Theater, based in Salt Lake City, furloughed all but one of their 18 full-time production staff. It’s begun to sell masks and repurposed set props to raise money to bring shows back in a limited capacity.";

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has created a bleak outlook for businesses across the country. But it presented a particular challenge to nonprofits, which rely heavily on donations and grants that continue to dry up as economic conditions deteriorate. 

A recent survey from the Utah Nonprofit Association found that 14.6% of respondents would only be able to continue providing services for another five months or less. Around one in four said they won’t be able to survive the pandemic. If that happens, the state could lose over 20,000 jobs. 

And while many nonprofit organizations in Utah have received federal relief funding, such as forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Association, the money has to be used within 24 weeks after it’s received and can only go toward payroll and a handful of other expenses.

“Your problems associated with COVID don’t end on that date,” said Kristen Floyd, executive director of the Safe Harbor Crisis Center in Farmington. “We are going to have ramifications for months, probably a year before we're able to rebalance.”

Beyond job losses, the financial impact nonprofits face can also spread through society, particularly to the most vulnerable who may rely on them. Some organizations offer medical help, some bring food to people, or help pay their bills, said UNA CEO Kate Rubalcava.

“Nonprofits are the safety net within our communities,” she said. “And if they are not there to catch people when they fall, who's going to be there?”

For the Safe Harbor Crisis Center, funding challenges can mean leaving clients in dangerous situations, particularly at a time when domestic violence is on the rise

“Our services have increased over 60% in just the past four months,” Floyd said. “So we don't have the staff, we don't have the money, we don't have the space. We're not prepared to serve an increase of that magnitude.”

She said they’ve had to get creative about the ways they now protect their clients, much of which now has to be done remotely, such as creating safety plans or connecting people to resources with law enforcement or the legal system. She didn’t want to provide too many specifics, however, to keep offenders from finding their victims.

But there are some things they just can’t do. One major impact has been having to limit the number of people who can stay at their shelter. They can usually house up to 31 people, but safety restrictions now only allow them to bring in about 10 at one time, though possibly more if they’re coming in as a family and can isolate together.

Floyd said it’s the same with almost every other shelter, too. 

“Ultimately, if we are at capacity and can't help them, some of those clients are remaining in dangerous situations,” she said. 

But Rubalcava said she is beginning to see more collaboration among nonprofits. They’re talking more and working together to find financial solutions.

It’s something Karen Azenberg, artistic director of the Pioneer Theater Company in Salt Lake City, has been pushing for. She said that because nonprofits are usually strapped for cash, time and staff, it can be hard to connect with other groups doing similar work. 

But in a recent op-ed, she challenged other theater organizations to look for creative ways to raise money. Her company, which hasn’t had a show on the books since the pandemic began, has been able to hire a few furloughed staff back to sew face masks and repurpose stage props into household items. 

She said she hopes that will ultimately help them start to bring performers and creative staff for readings and workshops. 

“It's not enough, but it's something,” she said. “And if other places can figure out similar kinds of things we are going to be able to help these artists through.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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