Local Nonprofits Struggle with Slumping Economy, Health Worries

Jul 24, 2020

Nonprofits are struggling in Hawaii’s economic crisis.

Pacific Business News recently held a roundtable with nonprofit executive directors in the arts, culture and media sector. These included Hawaii Nature Center, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, Honolulu Museum of Art, Friends of Iolani Palace, Bikeshare Hawaii, and Hawaii Public Radio

To varying degrees, all have been hit with a double whammy: health restrictions that impacted their ability to serve the public and then fundraising challenges as the economic crisis stemming from Hawaii’s efforts to contain the coronavirus hit statewide.

Bikeshare Hawaii, Iolani Palace and the Bowfin have been especially hard hit by the shutdown of tourism. Paula Akana, executive director of Friends of Iolani Palace, said that visitors accounted for 93% of its customers. It has reopened on a limited basis and reached out to kamaaina with some success, but nowhere near enough to pay the bills. Bowfin has reopened as well, in the midst of renovating its museum. That project has been delayed in part by self-quarantine rules for visitors since the exhibit fabricators are in Seattle. And where the nonprofit had expected to pay for some renovation expenses directly through ticket sales as one of the top attractions in Pearl Harbor, it is going to have the borrow the money instead.

When we met with our nonprofits, tourism was slated to open August 1st. Bowfin executive director Chuck Merkel said that any delay to that would be disastrous as the operation has already had to endure layoffs and paycuts despite the temporary relief of federal PPP loans. That delay has since come to pass, set now for September 1.