Power of the Purse fundraiser

Due to restrictions revolving around COVID-19, nonprofit fundraising events such as the Power of the Purse — which raised more than $38,000 last year for the local Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library — could either not be held or had to be drastically modified. Nonprofits across Steele County are feeling the crippling effect of insufficient funds during the ongoing pandemic, but financial relief is on it’s way through grants and CARES Act dollars. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Amid the never-ending list of challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, area nonprofit agencies have been barely treading water as the needs for their services increase during a fundraising drought.

“Nonprofits are in place because there are always going to be people who have a need,” said Annette Duncan, president of the United Way of Steele County. “And this year we see that need more than ever — people who have never had to utilize these services have needed to because of the pandemic. Without having this safety net of services, our community would be in a really bad place right now.”

This week, Duncan and Steele County announced separate funds to help local nonprofits. County dollars are also available to small businesses in Steele’s unincorporated areas.

Across the state, nearly 15% of the workforce is employed in one of the more than 30,000 Minnesota-based nonprofits. Many of those nonprofits are dealing with challenges similar to those faced by small businesses: declining revenue and stubborn costs.

Duncan said most if not all of the nonprofits located in Steele County have had little to no funding coming in throughout the pandemic, adding that community support is needed not more than ever.

“We have been focused on ensuring [nonprofit agencies] have what they need,” Duncan said. “It’s not enough for them to just do their services and do them well; they also have to make the money to be able to provide those services. It is really important that all of us pull together and do whatever we need to do so these agencies can continue.”

In response to the need among area nonprofits, specifically those providing human services, the United Way will be implementing a COVID Relief Fund Grant, providing up to $2,000 per approved application. The dollars come from a grant the United Way received from the Minnesota Council of Foundations in the amount of $20,000, according to Duncan. She said the goal is to get it into the hands of as many nonprofits as possible.

“The purpose is to provide a different funding source for any 501-3© nonprofit that services Steele County with human services and has had COVID-related obstacles,” Duncan said. “While the max we can give is $2,000, we are asking the nonprofits to let us know what they actually need because we’re continuously looking for opportunities and partnerships to fill that greater need.”

One of those partnerships came at perfect timing, as Steele County announced this week that $1.1 million of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act dollars has been earmarked to help nonprofits. The funds will be allocated through grants of up to $10,000.

“This money was intended to help local governments with costs they incurred during COVID-19 and help them pay some of these unexpected costs in emergency responses,” said County Administrator Scott Golberg. “We wanted to first identify as much as we could of our own internal costs, but that was only one bucket we needed to fill. Community, business and nonprofit relief are all priorities of the county.”

Duncan said United Way will provide support to the county by helping them reach area nonprofits and making them aware of the grant program. Golberg said he anticipates hearing about increased expenses in 2020 compared to the year prior as one of the obvious areas nonprofits are feeling a need.

“Lack of fundraising can also be taken into consideration, but lost revenue areas is one of the areas that CARES funding cannot be used for,” Golberg said. “However, if they show they lost revenue or haven’t been able to fundraise and the demand for their services has continued, that’s where we can step in to help with payroll, utilities and other costs they have been incurring on less revenue. It is sort of a backdoor way of helping with that.”

Duncan said this type of collaboration between the United Way, nonprofits and the county is exactly what is needed to keep the agencies alive and well during an unprecedented time. In addition, she said community support will also help determine the fate of some Steele County nonprofits.

“We are very fortunate in Steele County to have a strong community that is very supportive of each other, however, there’s just some situations that have made it next to impossible for some organizations to survive,” Duncan said. “We haven’t seen the misfortune of losing a nonprofit that other communities have yet, we are not to that point, but some of them are hanging on by a thread.”

“We have to do this together,” she continued. “No more of the silos — they have to be broken down. Otherwise we won’t get anything accomplished. Our job is not done yet.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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