Stay at Home - What it Means for Nonprofits

On March 27, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order directing North Carolinians to stay at home (i.e. to remain in their home, their place of residence, or their principle abode) for 30 days, beginning on March 30 at 5 p.m., to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina. The order also prohibits most mass gatherings of 10 or more people.

The "stay at home" order allows people to leave home for a variety of purposes, including: for their health and safety; to buy necessary food, supplies, and services; for outdoor activity; to places of worship; to go between multiple places of residence; to care for others; to volunteer at a nonprofit; and to go to certain places of work. The executive order effectively closes certain types of workplaces that are not deemed "essential businesses and operations" for 30 days. The order does not apply to individuals experiencing homelessness, although they are recommended to find shelter in a safe place that allows for social distancing. It also expressly encourages victims of domestic violence or others in unsafe conditions to move to a safer location when possible.

Are nonprofits essential businesses and operations?

One major question is whether this means that nonprofits must shut their doors for the next 30 days. The answer is that it depends on the types of programs and services the nonprofit provides. Several of the exemptions would allow some nonprofits to continue to operate their programs and services - and their offices - either wholly or partially. Some exceptions relevant to nonprofits include:

  • Nonprofits that operate within social distancing guidelines (keeping people at least six feet from one another, allowing frequent hand-washing for at least 20 seconds (note that nothing in the order requires the singing of the "Happy Birthday" song while conducting the hand-washing), regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, and facilitating online or remote access for customers.
  • Healthcare and public health operations, including hospitals, clinics, health centers, and mental health and substance use disorder providers.
  • Human service operators (defined broadly to include a wide variety of nonprofit human service providers).
  • Nonprofits that provide charitable and social services. This specifically includes food banks, but also includes other organizations that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life to economically disadvantaged residents, individuals with disabilities, and others needing special assistance.
  • Religious entities.
  • Media, including nonprofit newspapers and radio stations.
  • Financial institutions, including credit unions.
  • Educational institutions that are performing research.
  • Transportation services.
  • Home-based care service providers, including many nonprofits.
  • Professional services, including legal services and accounting services.

Even if your nonprofit falls within one of these exceptions, you are encouraged to have your staff, volunteers, and clients stay home to the greatest extent possible and to always follow social distancing practices when continuing in-person operations. Like everyone else in North Carolina (and around the country and the world), nonprofit leaders have a responsibility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.