Business Recovery Series: Non-Profits Endure through Support and Technology

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 8.3.21

Aspire Economic Development Chamber Alliance Johnson County Indiana

Just like local businesses, non-profit organizations had to devise innovative ways to deal with the impact of the COVID pandemic. They did this with the help of long-time supporters – and a few new ones. This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles about how the pandemic affected businesses and organizations in Johnson County. Today’s installment covers non-profit organizations that provide a variety of services.

“This story illustrates two important messages about the community,” observed Aspire President and CEO Christian Maslowski. “We are caring, and our non-profits are well-run.”

Girls Inc. of Johnson County in Franklin experienced an outpouring of generosity during the pandemic, reported Chief Executive Officer Sonya Ware-Meguiar. “Programs such as summer camp continued after a shut-down that ended June 22, though the pandemic limited the number of girls who could be served,” she noted. “Technology was a huge piece of this. We signed up for Zoom and some of the corporations donated computers for the girls and staff. The girls continued to get training at our center in a virtual format. We now have the technology in place to accommodate program partners who may not be able to visit the center in person.”

Ware-Meguiar said a pair of Small Business Administration PPE loans and donations from community organizations and corporations helped cover the cost of programs, scholarships, PPE, operations, and salaries, meaning the entire staff could be kept on the job. She added that contributions came from traditional supporters as well as new ones, who she hopes to keep engaged by relaying to them how their contributions are being used.

Some changes instituted during the pandemic will remain in place for a while, she said, including extra cleaning, social distancing, and providing the girls their own activity supplies so they don’t need to share. “We learned the importance of generosity and reaching out, working continuously on best practices, and not being afraid to ask for help,” she noted. “Our loyal supporters are still reaching out to us. This speaks well of the Johnson County community.”

Beyond Johnson County, total charitable giving nationally increased 5.1% in 2020, according to the IUPUI School of Philanthropy, and many foundations went beyond their regular grantmaking to provide food, shelter, and health care. The “Chronicle of Philanthropy” reported that donors stepped up their giving significantly to address the crises of 2020, primarily the pandemic, with 2021 expected to keep pace with last year.

Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County in New Whiteland had to close its “ReStore” for eight weeks, said Executive Director Lee Ann Wilbur, where donations of furniture, appliances and building materials are sold to raise funds to construct homes. “We spent a lot of time cleaning the store and when we re-opened, it was a wonderful surprise that it went well.” She added that immediately after the re-opening, the store received more donations of items than usual as people working remotely wanted to clear their houses of unneeded items.

Wilbur added, “We got two rounds of grants from the federal government that we used for COVID-related supplies and for payroll, meaning we didn’t have to lay off any of our employees.” She added that construction of a Habitat house planned for 2020 was delayed until May of this year. “The cost of building materials such as lumber has skyrocketed, and there are supply chain problems. Soil needed for the construction site is donated, but we still have to pay truckers to transport it and those costs have gone up as well.”

“Today, we’re definitely more aware of safety issues. We use hand sanitizer every day at the building site, the store, and the office, and we will continue to do so in the future,” Wilbur noted. “The biggest lesson we learned is that when everyone pulls together, we can get things done. Everyone’s in the same boat.”

Assist Indiana in Franklin had to cancel its regular fundraisers last April and October, reported Bill Rosier, chief financial officer of the trauma services organization. “Things just dried up because we couldn’t hold events. Board members tried to help, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do. The state sent us masks and sanitizer and face shields, so we were fortunate in that regard. We were offered grants, but we didn’t need supplies. We continued to see clients through Telehealth. We were able to maintain physical distance from clients. Our biggest challenge was to be sure our clients were safe.”

Rosier explained, “We’re a relatively new organization and the pandemic hit while we were building our donor list. If we get shut down again, we’ll be in better shape with our expanded donor list.

Technology played a big role in the organization’s response to the pandemic. “To operate telehealth, we had to buy Zoom and we had to acquire 200% more bandwidth,” he explained. “Having this technology will enable us to better serve our clientele in the future. We can reach them more effectively.” During the pandemic, the organization increased its cleaning efforts to provide a safe environment for its clients and wore masks when meeting with clients even though staff was vaccinated – both procedures that are being continued. Lessons learned? “We need to be cognizant of what factors could affect our ability to provide services,” Rosier said. And what about fundraising? “We just had a good event in April – Franklin really came through for us!”

Series Conclusion: Lessons Learned

Local non-profits benefited from generous donors, old and new, who stepped up to support them during this unprecedented time. But Aspire’s “Business Recovery Series” highlighted core operational shifts that helped businesses and non-profits of all sizes survive and reopen. Indeed, local non-profits responded to the pandemic in nearly identical ways as for-profit businesses; they embraced technology, tried to avoid layoffs, and discovered permanent improvements because of crisis mitigation strategies.

As the economy reopens and moves toward recovery, Aspire encourages business leaders to take note of the lessons learned during this “Business Recovery” article series:

  • Ingenuity and innovation – develop new ways to deliver existing services and even identify new revenue opportunities.
  • Agility and flexibility – be willing and able to shift and change.
  • Cash management – develop an emergency cash reserve for the unexpected and carefully manage overhead in lean times.
  • Embrace and implement technology – into processes, services, and procedures.
  • Resourceful – seek out and humbly accept private and public sector resources available.
  • People first – focus on clients, employees, key vendors, and community partners.

These lessons helped our featured businesses through the pandemic. But the leaders we spoke with didn’t develop these skills in March 2020. Successful business leaders rely on these skills to run an organization in all types of economies. The COVID-19 pandemic just caused business leaders to heavily lean on each of these, all at once.

Aspire honors all local business and non-profit leaders for their strength, endurance, and success in 2020 and 2021.

Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance
Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance
Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance