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Major Non-Profits Prepare for Tougher Times

United Way of the Big Bend

The Tallahassee area's non-profits are facing the COVID-19 challenge as best they can. So far, two of the larger organizations are holding their own, although both acknowledge tougher times are ahead.

Executive Director Katrina Rolle admitted these are interesting times for the Community Foundation of North Florida.

"Even though our physical office is currently closed we are still open for business and still operating. Our staff has the ability to work remotely at any time and we have the technology needed to assist our fundholders and agencies who have endowments with us."

Which, she explained is good news for the multiple non-profits that depend on the endowments the Foundation manages on their behalf.

"The Community Foundation is really here to help the fundholders fulfill their charitable purposes. We just facilitate them for them. And they tell us and make recommendations, we process them, send out the checks to the non-profits, so we do a lot of the administrative work for charitable-minded people."

Rolle said her organization simply provides the connection between the givers and the recipients.

"We have about 200 fundholders and about 80 of those are non-profits who have endowments with us."

Rolle said those endowments remain fully funded, but added the future is promised to no one.

"We haven't hit bottom yet. This is still a free-fall and I think people are wondering every day and every week what's next. I think once we hit bottom and we can see where we really are then we can start the long-term recovery. But right now, the immediate needs are ever changing."

Berniece Cox sees that uncertain situation, too. She's executive director of United Way of the Big Bend.

"You've got schools and businesses closing. We can't do business as usual, not only our businesses but also our non-profits. It's like nothing I've seen in my lifetime."

Cox added the demand for services is increasing every day.

"Our United Way and other volunteers are providing additional services during this pandemic. Our non-profit program partners are providing additional food, rent and utility payments, shelter and other critical services in Leon County and the Big Bend area."

But while the need is going up, the amount of money in the community that would otherwise support donations to the United Way is going down. So Cox said she and other United Ways across the country lobbied congress as it debated what ultimately became a $2.2 trillion recovery bill.

"We know there's going to be a significant increase in the population we serve. So advocacy on that $60 billion we also advocated for non-profits to be included in the Small Business Administration loan program to cover financial hardship."

Those dollars could be a while in coming. So Cox said the United Way of the Big Bend created its own emergency fund to help in the short run.

"That's going to be slow getting those funds as well, but when those funds are available we will have money to distribute to those folks in the community."

Still, both Katrina Rolle and Berniece Cox caution that what happens next depends on how long the pandemic persists and how much damage it does to the region's capacity to give.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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