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COVID-19 has the potential to make many Kansas nonprofit organizations disappear from our communities, making a lasting impact on the state’s social safety net and cultural institutions.

Immediate action from the public and private sectors are vital to keeping Kansas charities meeting community needs.

Nonprofit organizations serve many purposes in Kansas. They alleviate poverty, shelter the homeless, support education and health care systems, provide cultural enrichment and ensure animal welfare. They are also significant economic drivers in the state, employing more than 9% of the state’s workforce, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, with corresponding purchasing power.

However, nonprofit organizations operate on small margins in America. Analysis from financial firm Oliver Wyman found only half of nonprofits have more than one month of operating reserves, and most have few assets to leverage against economic hardship.

The challenges to nonprofit organizations nationally are piling up: cultural and social service organizations that gather people for meals, classes or other services can't safely operate. Fundraising events are on hold, and some have had to be canceled at significant expense to the organizations.

Private donations are rapidly drying up in the climate of economic uncertainty, and organizations that rely on revenue to exist, like most Kansas small businesses, are not getting it.

The American Alliance of Museums estimates American museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19, and a third of them will not reopen without financial assistance.

The closures will disproportionately impact organizations in small and rural communities, where cultural institutions are particularly important.

Compounding the crisis, many charities that meet basic needs are operating above capacity. Domestic violence organizations are dealing with the difficult reality of abuse victims being trapped in their own homes.

Homeless shelters must find ways to reduce health risk while providing enough beds for everyone. Organizations that help with food, rent and utility assistance are feeling the strain of massive unemployment.

Needs are rising as quickly as donations are dropping.

As our national, state and local leaders find ways to provide relief, it is vital they take into account the unique needs of nonprofit organizations. Many of these organizations have operated for decades, and their loss would be a significant hardship on the vulnerable populations they serve.

Perpetually scarce funding available to charities would make the sector would be incredibly slow to recover from significant closures. Nonprofit organizations, including cultural institutions, should be included in the stimulus and relief bills being considered on federal and state levels.

Keeping the doors open to serve Kansans, or making sure they reopen, is vitally important to the future health and prosperity of our state.