By Tom Van Hemelryck, Idaho Region President for WaFd Bank
In just six months, the U.S. has shifted from steady economic growth and strong consumer confidence to broad uncertainty driven by a set of unforeseen challenges impacting our communities at just about every level. As individuals, we’ve been forced to rethink social interactions and adopt safety precautions to keep ourselves and loved ones healthy. As business leaders, we’ve relied on creativity to overcome unanticipated economic challenges and quickly restructure how we do business. Now, we face reopening and reengaging with one another. While this transition is in itself a sign of hope, it comes with a unique set of challenges and unknowns that will require collaboration across Idaho’s communities.
The fallout of the pandemic has been accompanied by increased social unrest across the country, and one thing has become clear: we cannot simply return to a pre-pandemic normal. Between addressing personal and collective health, economic stability and prospects, and systemic inequities, we find ourselves in a time of incredible change and fluidity. As corporate citizens, we cannot solve all the nation’s challenges, but we can make changes close to home through a persistent commitment to community outreach.
Community organizations’ missions at risk
At WaFd Bank, we depend on our communities as much as they depend on us. Strong outreach and engagement efforts will be vital to seeing everyone, including the most vulnerable populations, through these times of change and uncertainty. Nonprofit organizations have long been essential providers of social services, and many local and regional government offices have established strong ties with them to ensure struggling individuals and families have their needs met. Even if public funding comes under pressure, community organizations with broad support can often continue their life-changing work.
But, today, nonprofit organizations that pick up the slack in so many of Idaho’s communities are in danger of experiencing financial hardship themselves. In a recent survey conducted by Charity Navigator and Reuters, 83% of nearly 300 nonprofit respondents in the U.S. reported suffering financially due to the pandemic and expected to see a 38% drop off, on average, in second quarter revenues. Although half of nonprofits experienced an increase in demand for their services, nearly two-thirds were forced to scale back programs due to the pandemic.
With the U.S. now officially in recession, nonprofits are taking a look back at how finances were impacted during the last go-around. For instance, giving fell by 7% in 2008 and another 6.2% in 2009, significant setbacks for those who seek to stretch every dollar as far as possible. In a recent interview, Amy Little of the Idaho Nonprofit Center noted how the pandemic has forced nonprofits to reconsider how they fundraise, protect their incomes, maintain relationships and generate savings to sustain critical community services.
Need for support grows with need for assistance
One of the biggest things Idaho’s businesses can do to ensure nonprofits remain viable is to explore opportunities to offer support. For some businesses, like ours, such community outreach is woven into our culture and our mission. If other companies are in a position to provide financial or other support, now is a crucial time as needs have swelled.
WaFd Bank has been fortunate to be able to maintain our commitment to nonprofit organizations that are experiencing heightened demand due to the impacts of the pandemic, such as the Idaho Foodbank. In May, the hunger relief organization reported that the need for food assistance jumped 25% to 50% across the state, with some communities recording a 100% rise. Additionally, the sudden shift in need largely came from those who were seeking food assistance for the first time, with 66% of the food bank’s partners reporting a significant number of new visitors. Through partnerships and efficiency, the Idaho Foodbank can turn just $1 into five meals, which can make a big difference to individuals and families struggling through recent income losses.
The pandemic’s associated stay-home orders have also had the unintended consequences of placing vulnerable women and children at risk, as reports indicate an increase in domestic abuse and sexual assault during these stressful times. WaFd has continued to support organizations like Women’s and Children’s Alliance, which has provided counseling and assistance to victims of abuse for more than 40 years, and The Salvation Army of Nampa, which offers essential services to at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth as well as COVID-19 relief.
Community outreach promotes wider cost savings
Being able to address basic needs — such as food and shelter — provides community members in need with a sense of dignity and stability. Nonprofits who specialize in hunger relief and housing solutions have built up partner networks that help them carry out their work more efficiently than any one individual or business could do. As a result, such organizations can save the wider community significant resources that otherwise might be required to address even more desperate needs.
Jesse Tree is another partner that WaFd is supporting throughout the pandemic. The organization works to secure safe, stable and affordable housing for Idahoans by lending financial assistance to keep them in their homes. By avoiding evictions, which can compound other issues, Jesse Tree saves the community the high cost of rehousing families, which can run from $5,000 to $10,000 per case, or providing homeless services, which can amount to $53,000 in one year for an individual in Treasure Valley. In comparison, it costs Jesse Tree an average of $900 a year to keep a family housed through case management or rental assistance.
Many ways for corporate citizens to help
There is no question that many Idahoans are hurting today — individuals, families and businesses. At a time of uncertainty and tightened purse strings, it may be difficult to commit to financial support for community organizations. Fortunately, businesses have multiple ways to help, given the platforms and loyal followings developed over the years as well as the trove of talent within their ranks.
Social media and an online presence can help get the word out about worthwhile organizations. Simply helping to build awareness about a community organization and its mission can inspire new donations that can keep the lights on. Businesses with physical locations can serve as collection points for donation or fundraising drives. And volunteers are still in demand, from providing physical labor and assistance to lending expertise and innovative ideas. Community organizations are often willing to partner with businesses and brainstorm ideas about making the best use of time and resources available.
At WaFd Bank, this type of community outreach has been part of who we are since our inception in 1917. In 2019 alone, we invested 16,480 hours through more than 1,200 local organizations and initiatives. In addition to $97,000 in direct donations to Idaho nonprofits, the bank also provided more than $175 million in community development loans and investments for affordable housing.
WaFd remains committed to supporting organizations throughout Idaho, and across our footprint, as we navigate uncertainty and promote economic recovery for our communities. We are here to share our expertise. Whether you’re a business seeking insight to becoming more engaged in our community or a nonprofit seeking grants or volunteer support, please get in touch with Community Relations at 541-880-5288 or visit our foundation page.
Tom Van Hemelryck is a banking industry veteran and has been in this business for more than 30 years. As Idaho regional president, Van Hemelryck oversees WaFd Bank’s commercial and retail banking at 24 locations throughout Idaho. WaFd Bank is the second largest national bank headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, with over 2,000 employees and 234 branches across eight western states.
Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender.