With 2024 upon us, it’s a timely opportunity to look at the state of philanthropy in San Diego County and forecast nonprofit trends to watch in the year ahead.

With more than 10,000 nonprofits in the region, San Diego boasts strong nonprofit support and awareness. In the University of San Diego (USD) “State of Nonprofits and Philanthropy Annual Report” released in October 2023, 81% of San Diegans reported confidence in nonprofits. Additionally, the report shares that 49% of San Diegans donated to a nonprofit, and 46% volunteer for one or more nonprofit organizations.

The same report notes that “nonprofits play an essential role in uplifting residents across the region,” sharing that 83% of San Diegans polled said that they’d benefitted from nonprofit services in the past year.

Let’s dig into the need for and impact of nonprofits in our region, and what’s to come in 2024.

San Diego Philanthropists Spotlight Costs of Living

In 2023, San Diego was named one of the most expensive cities in the United States, and its high cost of living is evident in “San Diego Economic Equity Report,” commissioned by San Diego Foundation and developed in partnership with the San Diego Policy & Innovation Center last October.

San Diego Economic Equity Report

According to the report, 1 in 10 San Diegans lives below the federal poverty line, equivalent to $24,860 for a family of four.

In comparison, the Equinox Project Quality of Life Dashboard developed by The Nonprofit Institute at the USD shows that the local self-sufficiency standard (defined as the annual income people need to meet their basic necessities) has steadily increased since 2011. In 2021, the self-sufficiency standard for a family with two adults and two school-age children was $94,895.

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of living in the region has led to an increase in demand for many of the services nonprofits provide, including housing and food assistance. Of local nonprofit executives polled by USD, 40% reported that demand has increased substantially, and 38% reported it has increased moderately over the past 12 months.

“This past [fiscal] year, San Diego Foundation and its donors had record health and human service-oriented grantmaking to local nonprofits that address cost of living issues, like emergency food and shelter, youth and child development programs, and workforce training,” said Pamela Gray Payton, Chief Impact & Partnerships Officer at San Diego Foundation. “Our nonprofit partners are working hard to meet our region’s needs, but more government funding and philanthropic resources are needed to address the disparity and inequity throughout San Diego County.”

Philanthropic Organizations Working Together

Balboa Park tree planting

One solution to the growing demand for nonprofit resources throughout the region is collaboration. According to the USD “State of Nonprofits and Philanthropy Annual Report,” collaboration among local nonprofits comes in various forms from “loosely structured collaborations to tight alliances to formal mergers.”

In fact, 78% of the nonprofits surveyed by USD reported involvement in a coalition or collaborative effort, with 65% partnering with another organization to deliver services and 28% formally tied to another organization. In total, 88% of organizations collaborated in at least one way, with many reporting multiple collaborations.

Examples of collaboration abound at San Diego Foundation, whether it’s public-private partnerships with local government or public agencies, partnered grantmaking with other foundations to make a greater collective impact, or formal partnerships supporting grantmaking in the San Diego-Tijuana region.

A notable example in 2023 was San Diego Foundation’s partnership with Dr. Seuss Foundation to award $1.15 million to support early childhood education and care.

“Through our grantmaking with the Dr. Seuss Foundation, we will have a larger collective impact on San Diego’s children and their families and build a more resilient region for years to come,” said Mark Stuart, President & CEO of San Diego Foundation.

Most importantly, these collaborations are successful – nearly all nonprofits surveyed by USD believe their partnerships were improving outcomes for the communities they serve.

Be on the lookout in 2024 for more collaborative projects and partnerships in the local nonprofit community.

2024 Opportunities in San Diego Philanthropy

While collaboration is one way to address the increased need in the region, local nonprofits also shared that they could benefit from funders providing more flexible funding, increasing listening and communicating, and reducing reporting requirements from grantees.

Together, these tactics are known as “trust-based philanthropy.” Of nonprofits surveyed through the “Pulse of the Practice Survey” recently released by Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties and The Nonprofit Institute at USD, 76% of funders say they are providing unrestricted funding and half are providing multi-year grant support.

San Diego COVID-19 Community Response fund grantee

Trust-based philanthropy efforts have been underway at SDF since the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, San Diego Foundation launched its San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund to quickly gather donations that could then go out to the nonprofits – and San Diegans – who needed help most.

In doing so, SDF listened to local nonprofits to identify the greatest needs, awarded grants through small advisory councils, and reduced reporting requirements for grant-receiving organizations.

“We relied more on trust-based philanthropy with grassroots leaders and community experts to help us get the funding where it [was] needed most,” shared Stuart in a commentary at the time.

Now, SDF is increasing its efforts by reducing reporting, awarding multi-year, unrestricted grants to partners making a difference, producing research on high-need areas like childcare and economic equity, and serving as convener on regional initiatives, like teacher diversity in K-12 schools.

In 2024, look for additional funders to join San Diego Foundation in expanding trust-based philanthropy. If you would like to get involved, it may be time to join one of the largest donor networks in the region to maximize your charitable giving impact today and into the future.

Ways to Give in 2024