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Nonprofits hit hard by COVID-19, look for new income alternatives

Morris Farm in Wiscasset is one of the many Maine small businesses struggling through the pandemic.

WISCASSET, Maine — Early February is the slow season at the Morris Farm, but this one is slower than most. It follows a year in which most visitors and groups stayed away because of COVID-19 restrictions. That meant the farm’s normal sources of income from visitors and groups never materialized. As a result, farm income was down more than $30,000, said Board of Directors President Madelyn Hennessey. 

The farm always runs on a tight budget, Hennessey said, but the COVID year forced them to take the difficult step of using money from the endowment to pay the bills. 

“We're New Englanders,” Hennessey said, “and you don't touch the principle, and we touched the principle. The alternative is we have no money to operate, we'd have to close and nobody wants that.”

Morris Farm is now working on plans for 2021, looking to encourage more donors, and looking for new ways to lure people and groups to use the farm once COVID restrictions ease.

The farm is by no means alone. Many of Maine’s nonprofits have been struggling for similar reasons after COVID forced people to stay away for most of 2020, and the first five weeks of 2021.

Sarah Skillin Woodard of the Maine Association of Nonprofits said many in Maine's large nonprofit sectors are wrestling with those same financial problems.

“They’re out there, getting creative, reaching out to philanthropic groups. Frankly, some are having to lay off staff but do the same amount of work, if not more, and that’s not a sustainable model.”

Woodward said some nonprofits were able to qualify for federal or state grants last year, but a majority of them could not. 

At Morris Farm, Hennessey said they know financial survival depends on finding new approaches as well as additional donors.

“When you have a property like this, if you don’t face reality, reality will face you right smack between the eyes. And looking at the financial picture, even before COVID, we needed to talk about a capital campaign, and now is not the time."

The farm’s one Americorps staff member organized a fundraiser on Martin Luther King Day, which collected food for the food donation center, as well as close to $1,000 in cash. That money, Hennessey said, is dedicated to the food donation program, which has become a central part of the Morris Farm mission since the pandemic began.

"We’re trying our best to serve as a spot where people know they can give and know they can come and take when they need,” Liza Goff, who manages the donation project, said.

Morris Farm hopes local people will continue to support the farm in its own time of need.