CalNonprofits Articles

Flag pole with US flag and Black Lives Matter flag. Photo: Burlington (VT) School DistrictWith the Fourth of July just ahead of us and Juneteenth just behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on inequality, democracy, and nonprofits.

The nonprofit sector could also be called the First Amendment Sector – four of the five First Amendment rights speak directly to what we nonprofits are about: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly (to set up groups), and freedom to petition the government (the fifth is freedom of the press).

As institutions rooted in democratic principles, we nonprofits often see ourselves as working against inequality and trying to reduce disparities if not eliminate them. Yet in many ways, the nonprofit community itself reflects those inequalities and disparities. Key reasons? Government agencies and foundations perpetuate these inequalities by reason of who and how they fund.

Unexpectedly, disparities in the nonprofit community have gotten worse over the last several years, despite government and philanthropic initiatives started on these issues (all data from Causes Count 2019: The Economic Power of California’s Nonprofit Sector):

  • Nonprofits based in people of color communities have an average of $1,668 per resident. In communities generally, nonprofits have 87% more: $3,123 per resident.
  • Since 2012, in communities of color, nonprofit revenue per capita (the amount per resident that all the nonprofits in that area have to serve them) has grown 19%. For all nonprofits: 30%.
  • In 2012, for every $1 per capita that metropolitan nonprofits had, rural nonprofits had 61 cents. Five years later, they had 59 cents.
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, 34% of nonprofits receive some type of government funding. Compare this to the Los Angeles (24%), San Joaquin (6%), Orange (4%) and Sierra (1%) regions.
  • Some California counties use 14% of their county’s budgets to serve communities in partnership with nonprofits. Some counties use only 1% of their budgets to do so.
  • Although foundations can and do fund outside of their locations, geography is an indicator of the concentration of wealth: Although Los Angeles and the Bay Area combine to have 48% of the population, foundations located in those areas hold 90% of California foundation assets.

We need to remember that every California county has wealthy and poor people, and great disparities can exist within a single zip code. At the same time, nonprofit funding is not created equal, and rural communities, poorer communities, and communities of color get less and less.

As we see the COVID-19 virus and economic devastation hitting disadvantaged communities with a ferocity far greater than in wealthier, urban, whiter communities, we in the nonprofit community – as nonprofit staff and volunteers, as funders, and as individual givers – need to act.

Changing the status quo

For nonprofits: If you are in a rural community, a poor community, or in a community of color, let your elected officials know these numbers. Challenge Assemblymembers and State Senators to bring more state money for nonprofits into your community.

Along with other local nonprofits, call on county supervisors and get them to expand county contracting beyond the “usual suspects.” Tell them the names of nonprofits that are from, embedded in, and standing for disadvantaged communities – don’t let them only fund mainstream, conventional nonprofits. Let CalNonprofits help you with the data to make your case.

For foundations: If you are a foundation, we understand the reasons for giving “where you are and where you know.” But too often that means foundation giving perpetuates inequality by giving mostly to well-to-do, mostly white nonprofits in cities and suburbs because that’s where most foundations and major donors are located.

Consider this: if you already give to a worthy symphony such as the LA Philharmonic, consider giving 15% of that amount every year to the Fresno Symphony or the Riverside Philharmonic. If you make grants every year to the local YMCA or the local community center, give 15% of those amounts every year to the Eritrean Community Center, the Booker T. Washington Community Center, or to the Islamic Community Center in Stockton.

This goes for individual givers as well – and most of us nonprofit staff are donors.

Serving communities of color is not identical to being part of a community of color

About 64% of California nonprofits report that they serve communities of color, but 14% identify as a community-of-color nonprofit. Although mainstream nonprofits often serve communities of color well, they will never be able to play the representative, leadership-building, political, and symbolic roles that nonprofits can play when they emerge from those communities and stay identified with them. For example, Black nonprofits can speak for the African American community, can negotiate for that community, and act as a locus of community power in ways that others cannot.

And finally, all of us in all our roles need to support nonprofits that advocate for our communities. Just as the power and importance of nonprofits have never been more visible, the need for government funding and sound policies has never been more clear or more urgent.

Join a policy coalition(s) to declare that your organization is active in support of the entire nonprofit community, whether the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, and of course, the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits). If there isn't a policy coalition that represents your community, start one.

Have you been thinking about inequality and nonprofits lately? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


0 # Cynthia Amador Diaz 2020-07-02 13:15
Astonishing to see the disparity in foundation wealth, particularly as it's our tax dollars that allow for this.
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0 # Joy Hahn 2020-07-02 12:11
Wow, as usual, for CalNonprofits, imho.

I especially love the idea about funders--whethe r foundations or individuals--pe eling off a little bit for similar, but smaller, orgs. I think that would need to be done with care, b/c it does mean less for the larger orgs. but hey, maybe somehow a collaboration could be setup between the two, not that orgs have much time/bandwidth to start, yet another, collaboration

But it reminded me of how "blue chip" stocks have been a favorite of Wall Street, of late, versus "value" stocks, not that I really care what Wall Street thinks.

But maybe we can think of smaller community orgs, like value stocks, that aren't as pricey as blue chip/large orgs, but hopefully will still have a long life ahead of them.

I also get tired of the old trope that nonprofits should be more like for-profits, and focus on growth, scaling and/or merging/consoli dating. So, investing in smaller community orgs seems like a great idea.
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