Indiana nonprofits reported greater demand for their services even before the COVID-19 pandemic reduced many organizations’ capacity to provide them, according to a new report from the Indiana Nonprofits Project at Indiana University.
The report, Indiana Nonprofits: Programs and Services, by Kirsten Grønbjerg, Ph.D., and Brittany K. Kurt, used data from a 2017-18 survey of 1,036 nonprofits, and found that 43% of Indiana nonprofits had experienced an increase in demand for services over the prior 36 months.
The growing demand for services at that time likely reflected the high prevalence of Hoosiers who were employed but facing financial challenges, sometimes referred to as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, but Employed (ALICE) households, according to Grønbjerg.
“In 2018, at the time of the survey, these families – who are only one emergency or one paycheck away from financial ruin – accounted for 37% of all Indiana households. Although the overall count of Indiana households who meet the ALICE definition has remained fairly stable since 2010, the scope of services they need is likely to increase the longer they stay in in that condition,” Grønbjerg said. Grønbjerg is director of the Indiana Nonprofits Project, Distinguished Professor at O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, and served as Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy (2001-2020) at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, where she is a faculty member.
While the survey data for the new report was pulled before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the disruptions caused by the virus have only exacerbated the problem, Grønbjerg said.
“The impact of COVID-19 on Indiana communities has undoubtedly greatly expanded the need for services at the same time that the pandemic has significantly reduced nonprofits’ ability to provide services, as we know from our more recent COVID-19 impact survey,” said Grønbjerg.
“In that May 2020 survey, we found that, at a time when Indiana residents were facing layoffs and rapidly growing needs for a wide range of services and support, 70% of Indiana nonprofits reported they had to limit or reduce program capacity as a result of the pandemic,” she said.
“Almost as many (69%) reported switching programming to phone or online platforms, and fully 60% said they had suspended or ended programs due to the pandemic. As a result, the need for services is likely much greater now because of the pandemic, while the pandemic has also reduced nonprofits’ revenues, and profoundly affected their capacity to deliver services,” Grønbjerg added.
Indiana nonprofits deliver a wide range of programs to meet the needs of those they serve and improve the quality of life in local communities. They provide education, engage audiences with performing arts programs, deliver counseling, conduct religious services, run social clubs, operate cemeteries and protect the environment. In the process, they fill gaps that government and/or for-profit institutions are unable or unwilling to provide.
Perhaps reflecting the widespread demand for services, only a minority of Indiana nonprofits in the 2017-18 survey reported challenges in marketing their services or themselves: 35% said it was a major challenge to attract new members/clients, while 30% said it was a challenge to enhance the visibility/reputation of the organization.
The report pays particular attention to community-level services. Almost two-thirds (62%) of Indiana nonprofits said they participate in or support social service, community development, or neighborhood organizing projects. More than three-quarters of these nonprofits reported that they dedicate at least some paid staff to these services.
In general, the findings show consistency among the factors that predict the nature and extent of programs and services among Indiana nonprofits. More formalized, older, and larger nonprofits were more likely to provide social and community services. Older nonprofits were more likely to provide financial support to other nonprofits. More formalized nonprofits were more likely to report an increase in service demand.
“These findings have important implications for both practitioners and researchers,” Grønbjerg noted. “We show the complexity of nonprofit service systems, and our findings point to factors that may enhance, or alternatively limit, program and service delivery. Thus nonprofit staff capacity (size), experience (organizational age) and organizational structure (formalization) are particularly important in implementing and delivering services.”
About the briefing
This briefing is the fifth in a series of reports from the Indiana Nonprofit Survey, Round III produced by the Indiana Nonprofit Sector: Scope and Community Dimensions project, designed to inform local community leaders and policymakers. The analysis is a joint effort of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The briefing’s co-authors are the director of this project, Kirsten Grønbjerg and research assistant and IU graduate student Brittany K. Kurt.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2021, “Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs” by U.S. News & World Report, the O’Neill School ranks first in the country. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including nonprofit management, ranked first.
About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy – voluntary action for the public good – through its academic, research, and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.