We know all too well that the past year has seen unprecedented challenges for people throughout our nation and all over the world. In my state of New York, the pandemic’s impact on the nonprofit sector, which in normal times employs 1.25 million people (18% of New York’s workforce) has been enormous. We continue to mourn the thousands of people who died of COVID-19, but it has also been a year of accomplishments, generosity, and problem solving by a vibrant nonprofit sector.
No one can forget the news footage of people waiting in long lines to receive donations of food at outdoor distribution centers where pop-up food pantries fed thousands of people. The New York State Health Foundation reported that, during the pandemic, food insecurity almost doubled from 10% before the pandemic to 19% in December 2020.1 According to Feeding America, in 2020, food banks distributed 6 billion meals and served 55% more people than before the pandemic.2
During the pandemic, charities have proven to be nimble problem-solvers. Facing funding cuts, program cuts, staff layoffs, furloughs, and the inability to engage in in-person services, charities – big and small, national and local – have reached out to people in need to provide food, shelter, healthcare, virtual arts offerings, spiritual guidance, and so much more.
The pandemic underscored the sector’s need for support from the Office of the Attorney General. In New York, as in many states, the Charities Bureau’s approach to regulation during this period focused on providing useful information and guidance to nonprofits and simplifying registration and reporting requirements, while continuing our core work. In New York, that core work consists of statutory review of major events in the lifecycle of a charity; protecting charitable assets in bequests; protecting the public from fraudulent solicitation; ensuring charities’ compliance with requirements to file annual financial reports and, when necessary, conducting investigations and litigation.
The challenges are by no means over for the many nonprofits that provide critical services to our communities, often with a smaller staff and an increase in the number of people seeking those services.
As soon as the pandemic began and the shelter-in-place directive was declared, my Charities Bureau received hundreds of inquiries from nonprofits who raised concerns about their ability to comply with legal requirements in the new virtual world. Within a few weeks of the stay-at-home orders, in early April 2020, the Bureau issued guidance describing best practices for conducting virtual meetings and assuring nonprofit meetings conducted in accordance with the guidance would be deemed compliant with New York’s legal requirements.3 We also extended the filing date for submitting annual financial reports in response to nonprofits’ concerns that they would not be able to meet the statutory deadlines. We provided guidance on the use of restricted assets. Our guidance also included links to many sources of assistance for nonprofits during the pandemic and reminded them that our Charities Bureau’s customer service staff, though working remotely, were available to assist them.4
The pandemic required many nonprofit boards to make major – and sometimes difficult – decisions concerning continuation of services, and many have asked the Charities Bureau for guidance on those decisions. Some seek to conduct new activities, some seek to join other organizations to combine their resources, and still others may dissolve. In New York, those changes require approval of the Attorney General or the Court, on notice to the Attorney General. To assist organizations making those difficult decisions in these unprecedented times, the Charities Bureau works with organizations to ensure that their applications comply with legal requirements and participates in public education programs to make sure nonprofits receive the guidance they need in planning for their future.
Many of us have shed our masks, are dining inside restaurants, and have hugged our family and friends. However, the pandemic is not over, and New York’s extraordinary nonprofit sector is continuing to feed and house our citizens, provide healthcare services – including getting the vaccine into arms – to us all, and so much more. While navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic, New York’s nonprofit sector continues to be the backbone of our society, contributing to and serving all New Yorkers.
Other articles in this edition include:
- Consumer Chief of the Month
- Attorney General Consumer Protection News
- Federal Consumer Protection News
- NYSHealth, One Year Later: Food Scarcity in New York State During the COVID-19 Pandemic, March 3, 2021, https://nyshealthfoundation.org/print-resource/?print=21519.
- Paul Morello, The food bank response to COVID, by the numbers, Feeding America, March 12, 2021, https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-blog/food-bank-response-covid-numbers.
- Guidance for Conducting Virtual Meetings of Members of New York Not-for-Profit Corporations, Office of the New York State Attorney General Charities Bureau, April 2020, https://www.charitiesnys.com/pdfs/guidance-electronicmeetings.pdf.
- Guidance for Charitable Nonprofit Organizations Facing the Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Office of the New York State Attorney General Charities Bureau, April 2020, https://www.charitiesnys.com/pdfs/charitiesbureauguidance.pdf.