August 3, 2010; Source: San Diego Metropolitan Magazine | A number of San Diego nonprofits are proof that “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the face of one of the most challenging funding environments in years, several groups are applying creative approaches to help them ride out the downturn.

These practices, spelled out in a recent study conducted by the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, include the following: Meals-On-Wheels of Greater San Diego sells advertising space on its seven delivery vans. Habitat for Humanity sells donated building materials from retailers such as Lowes or Home Depot at a discount home improvement outlet called Restore.

In the place of expensive fund-raising dinners, the Senior Community Centers of San Diego now takes donors on tours of its programs, so they can see the good their money does. “People don’t want to see their money paying for nice dinners, fancy tablecloths or center pieces. So we’ve really focused on an ROI approach, showing them how people are fed, housed and receive mental health services,” said President and CEO Paul Downey.

In its report, University of San Diego’s researchers concluded that the kind of innovation underway has “introduced a new vitality” into the city’s nonprofit sector.—Bruce Trachtenberg