Findings from 2021 SC Nonprofit Survey

Posted By: Bob Kahle Covid-19 Response,

South Carolina nonprofit leaders still facing financial challenges and reduced staff, find silver linings a year into the pandemic.


March 2021 marks one year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina. This report is a follow-up to a survey done in September of 2020 by the Riley Center at the College of Charleston (Robert Kahle, Principal Investigator and Gloria Roderick, Lead Analyst.) That hard data helped frame the SC Legislative response to the pandemic and informed philanthropic decision makers and nonprofit leaders.

Key objectives for the current 2021 study included:

  • Understanding the financial health/well-being of nonprofits in total and by sub-sector and region;
  • Determining the need for additional financial support;
  • Understanding the impact of the pandemic on people: clients and staff of nonprofits;
  • Providing guidance for the road ahead for nonprofits, through June 30, 2021; and
  • Identifying “Silver Linings” or positive impacts on the sector, nonprofit organizations.
  • Lists of email addresses and organization names were provided by investors and supporters of this research including United Ways, Community Foundations and other partners listed below. These lists were added to the sample used in the September 2020 study. The State provided lists of applicants and awardees of SC CARES funding. Kahle Strategic Insights (KSI) and Together SC deduplicated these lists, yielding 3,782 valid email addresses of nonprofit leaders.
  • KSI distributed the 35-item survey via email using Qualtrics, a professional survey platform licensed to KSI.
  • Investors and supporters encouraged their grantees and constituents to participate, ultimately yielding 927 useable surveys.
  • This reflects a 24.5% response rate and compares to 566 and a 19% response rate from the 2020 survey, an increase of 361 organizations’ data available for analysis.
Sample Profile:
  • This research has been conducted at the organizational unit of analysis with one response per organization. In nearly eight out of ten cases, responses came from the CEO/Executive Director. Other responses came from CFOs/COOs or board directors.
  • In general, this sample compares favorably to the fall study with a broad representation of nonprofit organizations by county, size and subsector.
  • The sample roughly approximates the distribution of nonprofits across the state with 147 serving the entire state: Lowcountry (257), Upstate (229), Midlands (193) and Pee Dee (65).
  • Forty-four of SC’s forty-six counties are represented with at least one respondent. Counties with the most respondents are Richland (142), Charleston (125) and Greenville (116).
  • Organizations large and small and across all subsectors are represented.
    o Annual operating budgets range from less than $50,000 to more than $10 million.
    o Full-time equivalent employees range from zero (all volunteer) to more than 100. 
Key Findings

(Graphs can be found in the presentation)

Respondents' Financial Health:
  • Two-thirds (63 percent) of nonprofit respondents to the Fall survey indicated they could only survive for six months or less without additional funding. With aid from the State and others, that percentage has dropped slightly to 59 percent.
  • The subsectors of Environment/Animals and Religious organizations report being the most vulnerable with 34% and 45% respectively indicating they can make it less than three months without additional revenue.
  • Yet, many nonprofit organizations report a surprising level of financial well-being, especially in light of the dramatic economic consequences of the pandemic across all sectors of SC’s economy.
  • Organizations in the Pee Dee are in the poorest financial condition overall, while nonprofits in Upstate and Lowcountry are relatively stronger on this measure of months to operate.
  • Analysis concludes that organizations that received Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) and/or CARES funding are in better financial condition than their counterparts who applied but were turned down.
  • Without these substantial government supports the overall condition of SC nonprofit sector would be much worse than has been documented in this study.
Impact on Staff and Clients:
  • Analysis of this survey data reveals that the nonprofit sector in SC lost 7.5% (975 jobs among survey respondent organizations) of its staff positions during the one year it has coped with the pandemic. This number mirrors a national study done by Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society.
  • Revealing a sense of these nonprofit leaders optimism is that they project they will add 3.5% (425 jobs) staff by June 30, 2021. While still a net loss of jobs, the trend toward increasing staff employment is a sign of a healthy sector, but with a tough road ahead.
  • Changes by subsector show the Public and Social Benefit organizations and Arts, Culture and Humanities being hardest hit in terms of job loss. The Health subsector actually projects a gain of 4.3% from March 2020 through June 30, 2021.
  • The Lowcountry shows the largest employment loss and the Pee Dee has retained more jobs as a percent of its total than any other region in the state.
  • Nearly two thirds of organizations report a negative impact on mission delivery due to staff absences because of close contact, quarantining or positive COVID-19 test results. For more than 100 organizations reporting (12.7%), the impact has been severe.
  • Food assistance, help with paying for housing, and support for remote learning/working are the top three needs these nonprofits report increasing the most in their service areas. Next, 22% report need for mental health supports for clients and staff.
The Road Ahead:
  • Cash is the single biggest need for these nonprofit organization as they look to continue to operate through June 30, 2021. Specifically in sum total, the 927 respondents need $54 million or about $63,000 per organization to offset lost revenue, meet increased demand, and restructure for a post-pandemic economy.
  • Human service organizations have the single biggest cash need for food, housing and assistance with basic human needs; a total of $23 million through June 30, 2021.
  • Every region (as well as those organizations that work statewide) have substantial cash needs; with the Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry each needing nearly $12 million or more.
  • Looking forward, beyond cash, SC nonprofits need support managing a return to in-person work/service delivery, supplies (e.g., disinfectants, PPE) and mental health supports for both clients and staff.
“Silver Linings” 
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of responding organizations see positive impacts from the year managing during the pandemic. This is up from 60% in the fall survey. Among the positive impacts:
    • Expansion of virtual programming, formation of new partnerships, improved community awareness, and reduction in facility expenses.
  • Silver Linings - in Their Words:
    • “Telehealth has been life changing for people with disabilities.”
    • “Children see our dedication to serve them through our consistency even during the pandemic.”
    • “We’ve benefited from increased engagement with our Board.”
    • “There’s an increased atmosphere of teamwork.”
    • “People are beginning to see the stigma surrounding mental health and opening up.”
    • “We increased our focus, attention and commitment to racial and social equity.”
    • “It enhanced our attention and commitment to advocacy.”
  • SC’s nonprofit sector has shown remarkable resilience.
  • Government support has proven essential to the sector’s financial health.
  • Meeting basic human needs/mental health challenges are priorities.
  • The open-ended comments reveal a depth of thought that is profound and constructive and provides a foundation for more impactful performance in a post-pandemic era. 

Investors and Partners:

This work would not have been possible without our Investors and partners and certain nonprofit respondents are available to share their insights and perspectives. Those interested in writing a regional or local story are invited to contact us. We will be delighted to connect you with regional contacts. Additional regional data will be available as further analysis is done.

  • SC Arts Commission
  • SC Association of Habitat for Humanity
  • SC Alliance of YMCAs
  • Duke Energy Foundation
  • Spartanburg Joint Funders
  • Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy, with the Nonprofit Alliance Greenville and The Jolley Foundation
  • Community Foundation of Greenville
  • Central Carolina Community Foundation
  • United Way of the Midlands with United Way of Kershaw County and United Way of Sumter, Lee, and Clarendon Counties
  • Eastern Carolina Community Foundation
  • Community Foundation of the Lowcountry
  • Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
  • Trident United Way
  • Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation
  • And others wishing to remain anonymous

Additional Resources:
Arts and Culture Additional Resources:

About Bob:
Bob Kahle
Robert W. Kahle, Ph.D.
Managing Director
Kahle Strategic Insights

Dr. Kahle’s passion is researching issues affecting vulnerable populations, especially those experiencing homelessness or hunger.

He is a prolific researcher and sociologist with nearly four decades of practical research experience. Recent projects include a stakeholder survey for Oliver Gospel Mission, surveys for the Lowcountry Food Bank of clients as they receive food, and strategic planning consultation with the Food Bank Council of Michigan.

Prior to forming Kahle Strategic Insights in November of 2020, Kahle served as the Associate Director of the Riley Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston. In his role at the Riley Center, he designed, implemented and supervised research, evaluation and strategic planning for non-profit and local government organizations, including the September 2020 survey of nonprofits in SC and the impact of COVID-19 on the sector sponsored by Together SC.

He also operated the research and planning consultancy, Kahle Research Solutions for 23 years prior to joining the RIley Center in 2016. He received his Doctorate in Sociology from Wayne State University in 1994 and his Bachelor and Masters in Sociology from Ohio University (Athens, Ohio).