Sonoma Valley’s nonprofit sector is surprisingly big but the needs it addresses are even bigger, according to a new study released by Sonoma Valley Fund. The report shows that nonprofits are challenged to serve a population that is growing, graying, diversifying and becoming less equal.
“This research is a new tool to help our community look ahead in a more strategic and systematic ways,” said Peg Van Camp, president of Sonoma Valley Fund. “For the first time, Sonoma Valley has an in-depth, baseline look at our community’s needs and its charitable resources.”
The Valley’s nonprofit organizations had total revenue of more than $113 million in 2014 — up 23 percent since 2011 (2014 is the most recent year that could be studied). A significant portion of those resources — about $34 million, or almost one-third — came from charitable contributions, mostly from individuals.
By comparison, the operating budget for the city of Sonoma is just over $31 million. It’s no surprise, the study concluded, that the area’s public nonprofit organizations are important to the community.
While the total size of Sonoma Valley’s charitable sector is large, most of the organizations are small. And most of the Valley’s nonprofits operate with little to no financial cushion—a reality that leaves many organizations more vulnerable than they may appear.
Meanwhile the challenges that the community and these organizations face are accelerating. Surveys conducted by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board show that the Valley is growing, graying, diversifying and becoming less equal.
One in four residents in the Valley is 65 years old and above; while the average for the state is just 15 percent. There has been a 70 percent increase in the number of families living in poverty here, even as the economy approaches full-employment economy.
Additionally, Latino families are significantly more likely to be living in poverty, creating an ever-larger economic divide. Latinos now comprise more than a quarter of the Valley’s population.
The Sonoma Valley Fund began work on this study six months ago, hoping to generate more dialogue about how Sonoma can better address the growing challenges that facing the community.
“We call the report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ because we are struck by how important the implications are for donors and nonprofit staff and boards,” Van Camp said.
Fundraising in the Valley is focused on a few areas of need. Youth Development and Education, by far the largest category of philanthropic giving, represents about one-third of all donations.
Healthcare accounted for almost one-quarter of giving in 2014. Organizations serving ‘basic human needs’ (e.g. food and shelter) and battling poverty in other ways only received about one in every eight dollars contributed to nonprofits, and they also relied heavily on donors’ charitable contributions to fund their operations (since it is difficult to charge for their services).
There are also clear gaps. Some growing needs receive little or no attention. For example, relative to the size of the aging population, few nonprofits exist to provide direct services to seniors. And no Valley nonprofit focuses on housing, arguably the Valley’s most significant problem.
Sonoma Valley Fund’s report concludes that there is a growing disconnect between the scale and complexity of the challenges facing the Valley and the current capacities and capabilities of the charitable sector.
“We have an urgent need to challenge donors and nonprofits alike, to seize new opportunities to work better and smarter, and to collaborate more closely,” the summary reads. “Especially in light of likely government funding cuts, we need to make sure that the resources we currently have are deployed effectively and efficiently, and at the same time, work to keep expanding the philanthropic pie.”
Its data is a start, but the report says more research is vital. “We believe our data points to many questions that need to be explored before we set out to develop and fund solutions. For instance, what kinds of services will the elderly need here? What have other communities done successfully to improve access to affordable housing without runaway development?”
The report concludes that community leaders must collaborate more, to improve focus and efficiencies. Donors, too, must have role in coordinating resources to create greater impact.
“In a world of rising needs and increased pressure on resources, good intentions will not be good enough.”
The full report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sonoma Valley and the Charitable Sector that Serves Us,” can be downloaded along with a separate executive summary at www.hiddeninplainsightsonoma.org.