Benchmark analysis based on two rounds of surveys in 2020
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Pandemic likely to have long-term impact on SD nonprofits
Jan. 28, 2020

While talk of vaccine distribution and herd immunity offers a glimmer of hope that life might return to pre-pandemic norms in the coming months, the outlook is less certain for many of the nonprofit organizations that serve people across South Dakota.

A report by Benchmark Data Labs says results of surveys conducted in 2020 show the COVID-19 pandemic had both immediate and long-lasting effects on nearly all South Dakota nonprofits. Service models were forced to change rapidly, and although some organizations experienced a funding “surge” during the initial phase of the pandemic last spring, many continue to face increased demands for service but with uncertainty about future funding and a diminished volunteer workforce.

The BDL analysis was commissioned by a group of collaborating funders (see below) to better understand how to effectively support nonprofits. This collective impact approach promotes coordination and allows data to drive funding decisions. To encourage participation, the funders made a total of $15,000 in grant money available that was awarded by random drawing to four respondents. BDL received 279 responses for Round 1 of the survey in April and 180 for Round 2 in October.
Notable Results

Of the respondents, 87 percent reported being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; 64 percent said donations decreased; 55 percent reported having fewer fundraising opportunities; 38 percent were unable to meet clients or customers in person; and 36 percent struggled to get or make use of volunteers. Other negative impacts identified to lesser degrees included the inability to retain staff, supply chain disruptions, and technology issues, to name a few.

Earned revenue – from fee-based programs and product sales, for example – was the largest source of revenue for nonprofits in the survey and declined across the board; though the survey results showed many nonprofits were able to take advantage of federal and state stimulus funding to help fill the gap created by the decline in earned revenue. According to BDL's report, 82 percent of responding nonprofits received some form of additional governmental funding by October, and 53 percent secured funding through the Payroll Protection Program.

Community and philanthropic support were also significant. By October, 92 percent of respondents reported benefitting from community-based fundraising, which generally comes with more flexibility in using those funds. In addition, 82 percent reported having received philanthropic funding. According to BDL, regional foundations contributed more than $6.4 million to South Dakota nonprofits between February and August 2020.

Although the extra financial support was critical, it is not expected to be a long-term trend. Surveys indicated many organizations remain apprehensive about their financial futures.
What They Said

Benchmark Data Labs categorized nonprofits into the following categories: Social Assistance (food, shelter, housing, utilities assistance, etc.); Healthcare and Mental Health; Educational and Youth Services; Arts and Entertainment; Philanthropy; Business/Economic Development; and Other Services.

No two organizations experienced the effects of the pandemic in the same way. Some nonprofits have hundreds of paid employees and additional volunteers; others have no paid employees and rely solely on volunteers. Some were able to transition both staff and clients to online platforms; others depend greatly on fee-based programs and in-person opportunities to deliver their services.

Here is a snapshot of comments, shared anonymously, from responding nonprofits:

  • “The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially changed every aspect of our operating methods. We saw drastic declines in face-to-face outpatient therapy sessions, which elicited our response of amping up telehealth delivery to patients via online conference. State officials were cooperative in allowing this form of teletherapy on a temporary basis, however a significant decrease in typical patient numbers is apparent.”
  • “We work in the schools and receive referrals through there and diversion. There has been a significant decrease in referrals and ability to be in the classrooms. Therefore, we have had a significant decrease in our program’s ability to receive the funding needed to meet our budget demands.”
  • “We serve the youth in our community. Many families have either lost their jobs or have had to work from home during this time. We saw an increase in demand for our [staff] to help with homework because families were stretched too thin and couldn't assist their children with their school needs (either because they are single parents working full-time and have multiple kids to teach, or they didn't have the resources themselves to help with their schooling).”
  • “In order to ensure we could safely serve youth on site we had to reduce our staff to youth ratios, increase our cleaning protocols, and purchase additional supplies to ensure that youth did not have to share the same items. We also provided food and educational activities for families at no cost while we were temporarily closed. This was an entirely unbudgeted expense and a service we provided throughout the time that our clubs were closed for normal in-person service.”
  • “We will continue to need monetary support along with volunteers to meet the continued need for charitable food assistance during the COVID-19 recovery period. We feel that the demand for charitable food assistance will go on for many months as individuals and families struggle to recover from the loss of work hours, jobs, accrued financial hardships and more.”
What Do We Do Now?

It comes as no surprise that nonprofits – like individuals, families, and businesses across the country and around the globe – suffered hardships in 2020.

The year 2021 looks more promising, but report co-author Jared McEntaffer, Ph.D., of Benchmark Data Labs cautions people about thinking the pandemic is over, noting that South Dakota’s COVID-19 cases in mid-January were still above where they were last spring.

“Issues for nonprofits are not over, and long-term impacts will continue,” McEntaffer said.

“Nonprofits are worn down,” Alan Solano, President and CEO of the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, said, adding that people should try to “give them grace” when services are limited or modified.

Beyond showing compassion to the nonprofit community that has helped many South Dakotans when they needed it most this past year, those who are able to contribute financially are encouraged to do so. If giving monetarily is not possible but volunteering is, consider the gift of time. Call 211 or visit for volunteer opportunities.

McEntaffer also encourages people to learn when and where they can get a COVID-19 vaccine. As more of society is immunized, more organizations will be able to function in capacities similar to pre-pandemic levels. For information on the vaccines, visit

Finally, learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on South Dakota’s nonprofits at Covid-19 Impact on South Dakota Nonprofits Round 2 - Benchmark Data Labs. The report’s authors may be contacted at:
Jared McEntaffer, Ph.D.

Office: (605) 716-0045
Cell: (605) 280-0874
Callie Schleusner
Office: (605) 716-0058
Cell: (605) 391-2461

*The Benchmark Data Labs analysis was commissioned by the following funders:

  • Black Hills Area Community Foundation
  • Black Hills Energy
  • Bush Foundation
  • John T. Vucurevich Foundation
  • Monument Health
  • NDN Collective
  • South Dakota Community Foundation
  • United Way of the Black Hills

This summary of the BDL analysis was prepared by Julie Oberlander, Communications Director for the Collective Impact Initiatives at the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

"Together, building the most caring community."
Copyright © 2021 BH Area Community Foundation/Collective Impact BH, All rights reserved.

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