Key Takeaways

  • In April 2020, NCOA surveyed 1,003 community-based organizations to determine the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to serve older adults.

  • Findings show older adults are struggling with critical needs during the pandemic, including accessing food.

  • Community-based organizations also reported having less capacity to serve older adults and are in need of support.


NCOA survey shows local nonprofits stretched but pivoting to provide services virtually

Armando Trull
Media Relations Manager

Arlington, VA (May 6, 2020) – Across the nation, community-based organizations that provide vital services to enable older adults to stay in their own homes are struggling to continue supporting their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic—and they’re worried about surviving past the crisis.

In April 2020, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a trusted national leader working to ensure that every person can age well, surveyed 1,003 community-based organizations to determine the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to serve older adults. As part of the nation’s aging network, these organizations help older adults stay healthy, financially secure, and independent by providing services such as meals, senior centers, healthy aging programs, benefits enrollment, caregiver support, transportation, and more.

“Ever since COVID-19 hit, we’ve been hearing from our local partners about the challenges facing them and the older adults they serve,” said Josh Hodges, NCOA Chief Customer Officer. “Community-based organizations have been chronically understaffed and underfunded, and now they’re on the frontlines of a global pandemic. They are doing an amazing job of pivoting to get our older friends, family, and neighbors what they need to stay healthy and safe. But they also need our support to continue this critical work.”

Survey respondents included representatives from all 50 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico. They included senior centers, area agencies on aging, local government agencies, councils on aging, low-income housing providers, health departments, and other organizations that collectively serve millions of older adults every year. The response rate was 4%, and the margin of error was +/- 3.1%.


Older adults are struggling with critical needs during the pandemic. Respondents reported older adults need help with:

  • Picking up groceries or meal deliveries (64%)
  • Accessing masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, etc. (63%)
  • Staying socially connected while physically distancing from people outside the house (62%)
  • Affording prescription medications (52%)
  • Affording food (51%)

Community-based organizations have less capacity to serve older adults.

  • Although a majority of organizations have been able to continue serving at least some older adults, their average weekly number of clients has dropped by 27%.
  • 45% said they have lost a great deal or quite a lot of their revenue due to the pandemic.
  • 42% have had to cut staff hours or lay off staff, and 46% anticipate needing to do so in the future.
  • More than 80% rely on volunteers, yet 92% say their volunteer workforce has reduced or stopped working; 46% said this is impacting their ability to provide services.

Community-based organizations are pivoting quickly to respond.

  • Organizations report they have suspended or decreased in-person programs such as falls prevention education (37%), congregate meals (35%), and chronic disease self-management education (31%).
  • At the same time, they have increased or introduced other services, such as home-delivered meals (35%), take-home meals (26%), and caregiver support (9%).
  • 90% of organizations said they’re moving their services to phone or online, including benefits counseling (25%) and caregiver support (24%).

Technology still presents challenges to reaching older adults online.

  • Respondents estimated that over half of their older adult clients lack broadband internet access.
  • Even fewer of their clients are comfortable using the internet (39%) or own a tablet or computer at home (38%).

To survive the pandemic—and beyond—community-based organizations need support.

  • When asked to rank where they would put additional funding if they received it, respondents listed day-to-day operations first, followed by expanding programs and services, and meals and nutrition programs.
  • Others listed outreach/communications, technology and technology training, and laptops or tablets.

NCOA has created a COVID-19 Community Response Fund to raise and distribute funds to community-based organizations that are serving older adults during the pandemic. The Fund will provide grants to qualified local nonprofits, especially those that are targeting underserved populations, including women, people of color, LGBTQ, low-income, and rural individuals.

NCOA’s survey findings are available for download online.

About NCOA
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is the national voice for every person’s right to age well. We believe that how we age should not be determined by gender, color, sexuality, income, or ZIP code. Working with thousands of national and local partners, we provide resources, tools, best practices, and advocacy to ensure every person can age with health and financial security. Founded in 1950, we are the oldest national organization focused on older adults. Learn more at and @NCOAging.