Lorraine Monfils of Ark Animal Sanctuary stands with some of the items to be auctioned as part of a fundraising effort. The shelter, like many other charities, has had to move it's fundraising efforts online due to COVID-19. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Lorraine Monfils had been planning an open house in March for a full-fledged veterinary clinic at the Ark Animal Sanctuary, an animal shelter in Houlton.

Invitations were sent out, and a bake sale was planned to help raise funds.

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed all that. The invitations were rescinded and the bake sale was canceled as the coronavirus spread.

Monfils’ situation is hardly unique among charities and non-profit organizations throughout Maine. While the impacts of COVID-19 have been felt by everyone, charities and nonprofits have faced a special set of challenges in overcoming the economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

Many nonprofits hold their annual fundraising events — a large part of their income — in the springtime, which was when much of the state began to shut down non-essential businesses and mandate people to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The loss of income for other businesses and their employees means there is less income to donate to charitable organizations that rely on them.

Jennifer Hutchins, who serves on Gov. Janet Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee and is executive director of Maine Association of Nonprofits, has been monitoring the pandemic’s financial impact on nonprofits.

In a poll Maine Association of Nonprofits conducted in July in which more than 376 organizations discretely responded, 87 percent said they expected some sort of revenue shortfall due to the pandemic.

“Early on in this crisis we were seeing non-profits right and left having to cancel their annual fundraisers that would be a significant part of their budget,” Hutchins said. “They just didn’t have that option. They had to start isolating their staff and everybody is staying home. And so these fundraisers are getting canceled.”

While expected shortfalls range from as low as $1,000 to as high as $12 million, they can also be attributed to the wide range of how large charities or nonprofits can be. In terms of losses as part of their overall budget, the percentages range from 3 percent to 50 percent of overall budget.

In a nationwide survey conducted by Intuit Quickbooks, 47 percent of regular donors are giving less than they did before the start of the pandemic. Another survey conducted by the online lender marketplace LendingTree says that 20 percent of Americans have either paused or decreased their donations to charity since the start of the pandemic.

“The nonprofit sector is similar to the business sector in that it depends on so many other issues with regards to what type of services they were offering,” Hutchins said. “The organizations that we’re seeing the hardest hit, no surprise, are those that have public facing aspects to them.”

Some of the non-profits and charities most affected are the performing arts, summer camps and those with in-person programming, Hutchins said. Some performing arts programs have had to consider canceling their entire 2020-21 seasons due to the pandemic.

The lack of traditional fundraising methods has caused charities and nonprofits to get creative about new outlets for raising money. With in-person events out of the question, many have switched to online as a means of raising money.

The Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri For A Cure, a women’s triathlon that raises money for cancer prevention, switched to being a “Virtual Tri” where people do runs in their own neighborhoods or treadmill instead of the race course. Same goes for the Dempsey Challenge, another cancer-related triathlon held in Lewiston. At the Stonington Opera House in Hancock County, an online gala was held recently to raise funds.

Monfils’ animal shelter in Houlton has also taken to the internet for fundraising. She recently held an online auction, where donors can bid on a variety of animal-themed toys, cups and other products in order to raise money for the shelter. The auction raised more than $1,500, and she plans to hold another one soon.

Monfils said that despite money being tight, the shelter continues to welcome and receive donations in the forms of pet food and cleaning supplies. She also said that since the pandemic, more people have adopted more cats with special needs — a sign that a generous spirit still persists throughout the community.

“People are opening their hearts and their homes, “ she said. “That’s been positive.”