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Finding financial relief and support (for individuals and institutions)


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Updated 11/12/2020

The museum sector is just beginning to assess the impact of closures, travel bans, cancellations of major events, and the implementation of physical distancing related to COVID-19 on both institutions and individual museum workers. AAM is monitoring emerging sources of assistance and documenting potential strategies for navigating the emerging financial crisis.

This section includes resources that may be useful in developing short-term and long-term fiscal strategies for supporting organizations, as well as information for museum workers who need their own financial plans for riding out the pandemic.

Directory of resources

Equity considerations for crafting financial strategies

It is important to note that when crises arise, they make underlying structural inequities more visible. Museum leaders must understand both the historical context that might have led to the crisis, as well as differences in potential financial outcomes that specific communities, particularly the most vulnerable (the elderly, the chronically ill, People of Color, the uninsured) might face. Every museum professional and institution will be affected by COVID-19, but understanding which individuals and museums will be the most impacted—and how—will be critical for financial decision-making and moving the field forward. For more, please visit our resource page on centering diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in a time of crisis.

Legislation related to COVID-19 and museums

Congress has now completed three rounds of major legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting health and economic crises. Below are brief summaries highlighting information relevant to museums and museum professionals. Note that this information represents current understanding and is not intended as legal or financial advice. Additional details may become apparent through further analysis and as federal guidance is released and updated. We will continue to add information here as appropriate.

Access the recording and slides from the April 3 webinar on “Crisis Management in Museums” here.

Updated on 6/8/2020.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (S. 748), passed March 27

This massive COVID-19 economic relief bill—an estimated $2.2 trillion package—includes important support for museums, thanks to the outstanding and tireless work of museum advocates. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included $500 billion in economic stabilization funds, $274 billion in emergency appropriations, and other measures aimed at combating the COVID-19 health care and economic crisis. It also included significant expansions in small business lending, unemployment insurance, tax relief to individuals and employers, and health care measures.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) received $200 million collectively ($50 million for IMLS and $75 million for each endowment). All three agencies are authorized to provide direct grants to support museum operations, and matching requirements are waived.

         IMLS Webinars

AAM collaborated with others in the nonprofit sector to make sure nonprofit organizations, including museums, are eligible for small business loans (with forgiveness provisions) and that the legislation include charitable giving incentives. This article from the National Council of Nonprofits summarizes the key provisions relevant to the nonprofit sector, as did their March 31 program on “Federal Coronavirus Relief Bills: What Do They Mean for Nonprofits?” (webinar recording and slides). Their April 7 program (recording) and additional regularly-updated resources are now available.

The CARES Act includes three different loan programs designed to help organizations keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis:

  • Paycheck Protection Program (also known as Small Business Administration 7(a) Loans) provides loans up to $10 million for eligible nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees, permitting them to cover costs of payroll, operations, and debt service, and provides that the loans be forgiven in whole or in part under certain circumstances. For more information, including eligibility, how to apply, loan details, forgiveness, and other assistance visit the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program page. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has posted additional information, including an overview and a sample application for borrowers. On April 15, 2020, SBA issued an interim final rule: Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program outlining the key provisions of SBA’s implementation of the program in formal guidance and requests for public comment due May 15. AAM’s comments here. (On April 24, a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill to recapitalize SBA loan programs, as well as provide funding for expanded COVID-19 testing and support for hospitals, was signed into law, including an additional $310 billion for small business relief through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. $60 billion of these new funds will be reserved for smaller lending institutions, such as credit unions, community banks, Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions. The Small Business Administration resumed accepting PPP loan applications on Monday, April 27 at 10:30AM EDT.)
    • Starting April 3, 2020, small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply for and receive loans to cover their payroll and other certain expenses through existing SBA lenders.
    • Starting April 10, 2020, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply for and receive loans to cover their payroll and other certain expenses through existing SBA lenders.
    • Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans as soon as they are approved and enrolled in the program.
    • Safe Harbor: In mid-May the Treasury Department announced a new safe harbor for loans of $2 million and under where they are automatically deemed to have made the required certification in good faith. Please see this frequently updated Treasury FAQ Question 46: “How will SBA review borrowers’ required good-faith certification concerning the necessity of their loan request?” In short, anything below $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification in good faith. Over $2 million: If SBA determines in the course of its review that a borrower lacked an adequate basis for the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request, SBA will seek repayment of the outstanding PPP loan balance and will inform the lender that the borrower is not eligible for loan forgiveness.
    • Loan Forgiveness: Treasury and the Small Business Administration have released long-awaited guidance on loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. The Interim Final Rule on loan forgiveness attempts to clarify numerous questions borrowers have and complements the loan forgiveness application and instructions announced by SBA on May 15. The National Council of Nonprofits prepared an Analysis of the Loan Forgiveness Interim Final Rule. Public comments were due on or about June 25. Fiscal Strength for Nonprofits (FMA) produced a Paycheck Protection Program Toolbox designed to support nonprofit organizations as they navigate the Paycheck Protection Program. The FMA also has the PPP Forgiveness Racial Equity Initiative (PPP FREI) to provide customized advisory support around navigating the PPP forgiveness process to nonprofit organizations led by people who self-identify as Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color (in the ED/CEO role), and nonprofit organizations in which the staff person managing the PPP forgiveness process self-identifies as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color.
    • Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act: On June 5, 2020, the president signed into law the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010). The new legislation modifies some of the terms related to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness. The main provision is a tripling of the time allotted for PPP loan recipients to spend funds and qualify for forgiveness. This article is an update to Marcum’s previous summary about the Loan Forgiveness Application and includes the previous rules along with the changes in the proposed new law.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Loan Advances (SBA 7(b) loans): Eliminates creditworthiness requirements and appropriates an additional $10 billion to the EIDL program so that eligible nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees, as well as self-employed workers, can get loan advances of up to $10,000 within three days of a successful application. The loan advance provides economic relief to organizations that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. The loan advance is treated as a grant and will not have to be repaid.

The SBA’s regular EIDL program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans are not forgivable (except for the $10,000 advance); the interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75%. Start your application here.

  • Main Street Business Lending Program/Mid-size Business Loan Program: On April 9, the U.S. Treasury has released information on the CARES Act Main Street Business Lending Program.  (Midsize Loans: Nonprofits employing more than 500 employees have not received forgivable loan support since the beginning of the pandemic. The House-passed HEROES Act on May 15 that includes a loan program with narrow forgiveness opportunities, but the bill was declared dead on arrival in the Senate. A separate bill, the Help Charities Help Communities Act, introduced by Representative Beatty (D-OH), would create a forgivable loan program for nonprofits with between 500 to 10,000 employers. The bill has been endorsed by numerous national nonprofits, including AAM, with affiliates that currently are not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.)

Note that organizations with 500 or fewer employees can apply for both the Paycheck Protection Program and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan but cannot receive two loans for the same expenses. The 500-employee limit is calculated using SBA guidance (the average number of people employed for each pay period over the business’s latest 12 calendar months; any person on the payroll must be included as one employee regardless of hours worked or temporary status).

The Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee offers this guide on the SBA provisions here. Also see the National Council on Nonprofit’s helpful chart for an overview of the loans available for nonprofits.

Other relevant provisions in the CARES Act include:

  • Charitable Giving Incentives: Includes a new above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers who do not itemize) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The bill also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent. For corporations, the bill raises the annual limit from 10 percent to 25 percent. (Section 2205)
  • Employee Retention Payroll Tax Credit: For organizations that do not qualify for or receive a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, this creates a refundable payroll tax credit of up to $5,000 for each employee per quarter on the payroll when certain conditions are met (e.g., operations were fully or partially suspended due to a governmental order that limited commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19; gross receipts declined by more than 50% when compared to the same quarter in a prior year). Learn more here.

To learn more about applying for relief funds—for individuals, small nonprofits, and large nonprofits—made available through the CARES Act, visit this helpful guide from Independent Sector. You can also access the full presentations and recordings of the April Independent Sector webinars Navigating the CARES Act and What’s Next for COVID-19 Relief for Nonprofits? online.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), passed March 18

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), with an estimated cost of $104 billion, goes into effect April 1, 2020. This act responds to the growing health and economic crises with policies addressing unemployment insurance, tax credits for affected employers, paid sick and family leave for certain employees, free COVID-19 testing, nutrition assistance programs.

This article from the National Council on Nonprofits summarizes employment-related and other major provisions, including:

  • Two Weeks of Emergency Paid Sick Leave: Requires employers with fewer than 500 employees, including nonprofits, to provide employees two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay (up to $511/day and $5,110 over the two-week period) if the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Also requires two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular pay (up to $200/day and $2,000 over the two-week period) if an employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine or to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
  • Additional Ten Weeks of Emergency Family and Medical Leave: Requires employers with fewer than 500 employees, including nonprofits, to provide up to an additional ten weeks of emergency family and medical leave (following the initial two weeks of emergency paid sick leave) at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Labor has shared fact sheets on employee rights and employer requirements, as well as initial guidance on the act—addressing questions such as how to determine if an employer has fewer than 500 employees, how to calculate leave hours and pay rate, small business exemptions, much more. The DOL continues to update and revise this guidance. For the latest from the DOL, visit their page on COVID-19 and the American Workplace.

  • Refundable Payroll Tax Credits: Employers paying for the mandated paid leave are entitled to claim a refundable tax credit.

The U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and U.S. Department of Labor (Labor) have announced that small and midsize employers can begin taking advantage of two new refundable payroll tax credits provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act designed to immediately and fully reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing coronavirus-related leave to their employees. More information on this relief to employees and small and midsize businesses (including nonprofits) is available here.

  • Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act: Establishes a new act to provide $1 billion for emergency grants to states for processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits.

Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 6074), passed March 6

This legislation provides $8.3 billion in supplemental appropriations for federal agencies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on coronavirus prevention, preparation, and response efforts.

Other relief funds

Giving Compass and the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) have compiled a vetted list of COVID-19 relief funds. As of March 24, 2020, this list includes more than 90 funds established to address immediate and long-term needs related to COVID-19. Also, monitor this spreadsheet of relief funds being compiled by the Council on Foundations.


A large number of foundations recently created and signed a pledge to provide their grantees with “the flexibility and grace to respond quickly and confidently in this critical moment.” These foundations have also expressed a willingness to provide funding for organizations they do not currently fund. The commitments of those foundations signing the pledge include:

  • Loosening or eliminating restrictions on current grants. (This can include converting project-based grants to unrestricted support; accelerating payment schedules; and not holding grantees responsible if conferences, events, and other project deliverables must be postponed or canceled.)
  • Making new grants as unrestricted as possible, so nonprofit partners have maximum flexibility to respond to this crisis. They will also support organizations created and led by the communities most affected that they may not fund currently.
  • Reducing what they ask of nonprofit partners such as postponing reporting requirements, site visits, and other demands on their time during this challenging period.

Financial resources for nonprofits

The DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the University of Maryland has created a list of some practical steps during a time of uncertainty, including actions to take with funders, vendors, ticket holders, creditors, and lenders.

Considerations on marketing during COVID-19 closures, from Colleen Dilenschneider of IMPACTS research.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has published Help for Nonprofits During the Coronavirus and Uncertain Economic Times, a free selection of articles from its archives. This collection includes essays on teleworking, engaging major donors, helping the vulnerable, and coverage of how foundations are responding to the need for COVID relief.

The Innovation in Nonprofit Finance Blog provides helpful information in this Financial Leadership in the Face of Impossible Choices post.

How museum endowments impact Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

Examples of museum adaptations

Some museums are converting upcoming fundraising galas into digital events:

The Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses in New Orleans is moving their annual  Wine Fête online, complete with silent auction, and encouraging attendees to participate from home (with a glass of wine, of course).

The Tenement Museum’s virtual gala, held the evening of April 28, offered attendees a short, informal digital program and the option of receiving “a Lower East Side box dinner when things return to normal.”

The Japanese American National Museum’s virtual gala included a Livestream program during which they will announced the winner of their raffle (the prize is a 2020 Lexus RX 450h!), held an online auction, and solicited donations for their education programs.

Long-term financial strategies

TrendsWatch: The Future of Financial Sustainability

This year’s edition of the Center for the Future of Museum’s annual forecasting report investigates the trends destabilizing traditional income streams, documents how museums are optimizing existing revenue, and highlights emerging forms of support. Museums can use the report to educate stakeholders on the challenges of funding a nonprofit museum, as a framework for assessing existing income streams and identifying areas for improvement, and as a springboard to building diverse forms of income to support their work.

Financial relief and resources for museum workers

This collection of resources is designed for museum workers who need their own financial plans for riding out the pandemic, whether they are working but faced with the need to take care of themselves or family members, or currently unemployed.

AAM is a proud partner of which helps pair out-of-work museum staff with prospective employers.

Museum workers who are still employed should familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights. Generally, the act stipulates how employees of covered employers are eligible for paid sick leave and paid expanded family and medical leave. (Covered employers are companies with up to five hundred employees, though businesses with fewer than fifty employees can apply for exemption for some of the provisions of the act.) This short video from volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts provides an overview of unemployment and developments under the CARES Act.

The Department of Labor provides an overview to Applying for Unemployment Insurance Benefits. CNN has created its own Guide to Filing for Unemployment Benefits that is written in plain English and addresses some practical considerations about accessing benefits during the crush of applications resulting from the current spike in unemployment. Museum Workers Speak has also created a Museum Workers Relief Fund to help those adversely affected by the pandemic.

A free tool called Hello Landlord, from legal experts, helps tenants quickly draft a letter to their landlord to explain why they haven’t paid—and outline their right to avoid evictions under the CARES Act.

Many museum workers are working artists as well. This article from Artnet summarizes Emergency Grants, Medical Funds, and Other Resources to Help Artists in Need of Aid. Fractured Atlas is also maintaining a list of Emergency Resources for Artists in the Wake of COVID-19.

Fast Company’s “9 Steps to Take Right Now If You’ve Been Laid Off” covers some financial actions, but also things to do to maintain your psychological health, and prepare to begin a job search, if that becomes necessary.

In this stressful time, self-care is more important than ever. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is offering Helpful Expert Tips and Resources for Coronavirus Anxiety. Shine has compiled a toolkit on how to Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety. This might also be a good time to download a copy of Seema Rao’s Objective Lessons: Self-care for Museum Workers (which is free on Kindle Unlimited). The Alliance blog recently posted Seeking Self-Care Solutions, for COVID-19 and Beyond.

Additional financial resources

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided here is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For information specific to your institution or situation, you should seek legal advice from counsel in your relevant jurisdiction.

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