Report on San Diego Nonprofits Shows Lots of Redesigning

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June 12, 2014;KPBS and The Atlantic

Economic data on major sectors of the economy are regularly collected and reported in the media and in industry-specific reports. For example, data about the real estate and financial markets are regularly published and available for use in decision-making by sector leaders, government officials, investors, and consumers.

Nonprofit sector leaders do not typically have the same access to timely, sector-specific information. In fact, data regarding the nonprofit sector is usually derived from the IRS Form 990 and, consequently, has a lag time of at least a year or more.

To address this lack of timely data, the Caster Center at the University of San Diego developed in 2011 the State of Nonprofits Quarterly Index (SoNP). Published quarterly, the SoNP reports on six distinct indicators that have a direct impact on the economic health of San Diego’s nonprofit sector: public confidence, individual giving, volunteering, demand for services, nonprofit employment, and overall unemployment.

Quantitative data is collected by the Caster Center through quarterly surveys of approximately 500 local residents, 2-1-1 call data, job posting websites, and via the California Employment Development Department. Additionally, a panel of nonprofit leaders serving as Trend Reporters provides quantitative data about their organizations and qualitative data about trends they observe in the sector.

The SoNP has been systemically tracking data on these indicators for eleven quarters, and on June 5th the Caster Center released its second annual State of Nonprofits Report. In addition to presenting longitudinal SoNP data, the report benchmarks key facts about San Diego’s nonprofit sector such as the number of nonprofits, revenue sources, and employment. For example, currently there are:

  • 9,364 501(c)(3) nonprofits in San Diego
  • 3,700 nonprofits with revenues greater than $50,000
  • 2,140 nonprofits with paid employees
  • 241 nonprofits with more than 50 paid employees

San Diego’s nonprofit sector makes significant contributions to the local economy by employing more than 103,000 individuals and contributing more than $5.1 billion in wages each year. It also boasts $19.77 billion in total assets, $13.77 billion in total revenue, and $12.52 billion in total expenses.

Nonprofit leaders—Trend Reporters—are quoted in the report as describing a sector in flux. Specifically, they report that overall economic health of San Diego nonprofits is improving, nonprofits are continuing to hire, demand for service is shifting away from the desperation that characterized much of the recession and into what may be called a new normal, and the landscape of giving and volunteering is evolving rapidly. In this environment, Trend Reporters identified five key strategies employed by nonprofit leaders. Specifically, the report indicates that nonprofit leaders are:

  1. Redesigning internal operations
  2. Focusing on staff development
  3. Improving measurement and communication of outcomes
  4. Enhancing donor engagement through social media
  5. Engaging in more strategic collaboration

Additional information about the SoNP can be found online. This information is specific to the San Diego region; however, the Caster Center is currently working with CalNonprofits to publish in late July a comprehensive report of the economic impact of nonprofits in California.—Jennifer Amanda Jones

[Disclosure: The author of this newswire helped develop the index and was a second author on the report in question.