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Report: Sonoma philanthropy must change

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Community Presentations

The community is invited to two presentations of the findings of "Hidden in Plain Sight":

Thursday, May 25: 5 p.m., the Woman's Club, 574 1st St E.
Thursday, June 1: 7 p.m., Vintage House, 264 1st St E.

Sonoma Valley needs to rethink its benevolence.

That’s chief among the conclusions of the Sonoma Valley Fund’s recently released, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sonoma Valley and the Charitable Sector that Serves Us” – a report examining whether the supply side of Sonoma Valley philanthropy lines up with demand.

Or, as the report authors recently explained to the Index-Tribune: Sonoma Valley is incredibly generous in its volunteerism and philanthropy – but even more is needed in the coming years to adequately address the needs and challenges of the local nonprofit community and those it serves.

“The amount of money raised by the 100-plus nonprofits in Sonoma Valley is big,” said SVF board member Katherine Fulton, who oversaw the formulation of the report. “But when you put it next to the problems our Valley faces, it is not big enough.”

“Hidden in Plain Sight” is the first major overview of the Sonoma Valley charitable sector conducted by the Sonoma Valley Fund, a local arm of the Community Foundation Sonoma County, which oversees millions of dollars in grant funding to nonprofits throughout the county.

Describing the widening of inequality in the United States as a “historic moment” for American philanthropy, the report says its aim is to “respond to this moment with original research about both sides of this equation: the growing needs, and the growing philanthropic response to them.”

In composing the study, Fulton oversaw an extensive two-pronged analysis of both the needs of Sonoma Valley residents and the community’s charitable giving.

Sonoma Valley Fund officials last year commissioned the Sonoma County Economic Development Board to provide a five-year update on demographic, economic and social aspects of life for the 40,000 residents of Sonoma Valley, defined in the report as extending from Kenwood to Sears Point.

“We needed to start by getting a better sense of what Sonoma Valley’s needs are,” said Fulton.

SVF board chair Peg Van Camp said that the demographics of the community are changing rapidly, but its habits of philanthropy are not.

“What we found is that our Valley is growing, graying and diversifying,” said Van Camp, “while becoming increasingly unequal.”

Economic Development Board research shows that the Valley’s population is growing faster than the state as a whole – and the population over 65 has jumped 20 percent from 2011 through 2016.

Other demographic information the EDB provided in the report includes:

Hispanics now comprise 28 percent of the general population and 57 percent of the school population. More than 13 percent of all Valley residents are non-citizens (up more than 50 percent) and a third of all students are English learners.

The education gap is also widening, as well. More than 50 percent of Hispanic residents lack a high school diploma compared with only 5 percent of whites. Only 12 percent Hispanics have a college degree, versus 43.5 percent for whites.

Despite a low local unemployment rate of only 5 percent, a fifth of the population in Sonoma struggles with poverty (a 60 percent jump since the last report). Almost 20 percent of families with children live in poverty.

Home ownership is down in Sonoma Valley and in some neighborhoods, like Fetters/Agua Caliente, 22 percent fewer residents own their home today than did five years ago.

Using the updated demographic information, SVF researchers sought to identify areas of growing need in Sonoma Valley.

Community Presentations

The community is invited to two presentations of the findings of "Hidden in Plain Sight":

Thursday, May 25: 5 p.m., the Woman's Club, 574 1st St E.
Thursday, June 1: 7 p.m., Vintage House, 264 1st St E.

“The problems our Valley faces are hiding in plain sight,” said Fulton, referencing the title of the report.

To compose the data, Fulton and a small team of board members say they dedicated almost 1,000 hours to analyzing tax returns of the nonprofits in town. The most recent data reflects 2014 returns; religious organizations were not included among the nonprofits in the survey.

According to SVF researchers, there has been a dramatic increase in philanthropy in recent years.

As a whole, Sonoma Valley nonprofits had revenues of more than $113 million in 2014 – a 23 percent increase since 2011. Almost one third of that revenue, or $34 million, came from philanthropic donations – an increase in that timeframe of almost 72 percent.

More sobering, however, the team also found that the average Sonoma Valley nonprofit is only just scraping by with about three months of operating cash at the ready. About one-third of the organizations studied “had no cash or savings on hand at the end of 2014.”

“The hard reality... is that at the organizational level, many Sonoma nonprofits are very small, live hand-to-mouth, and compete with each other for charitable dollars,” according to the report.

And they uncovered troubling gaps between the needs of the Valley and services provided by its nonprofits. Two such areas – aging and housing – are either underserved, or will be in the near future, according to SVF officials.

“It is striking that no organization in Sonoma exists to address low-income housing or housing policy,” reads the report. Additionally, the report says, “Given the rapid growth of (seniors), more work needs to be done to look at specific services for the aging...”

Van Camp says the way the nonprofit community is approaching these issues today, “is unlikely to solve these problems in the future.”

“Business as usual is not going to solve the Valley’s problems of increased poverty, a lack of affordable housing and the rapid rise of our senior population,” said Van Camp.

Van Camp and Fulton point out that by far the greatest amount of money raised – about a third – is directed toward youth and education. “This is an important area, and the money dedicated to programs in this area appear to be making a difference,” said Fulton.

In terms of how nonprofits raise money in the Valley, tax returns showed that while fundraising events are a popular tool for nonprofits, they account for less than 1 percent of all money raised.

“People in this town are exhausted by all the fundraisers and the data just doesn’t back it up that events are a successful way to raise money,” said Fulton.

Instead, the report suggests the nonprofit community should add other approaches to its fundraising arsenal, such as engaging recent transplants to the Valley or those who keep second homes here. It also stresses a better focus on legacy gifts made as part of a family’s estate plan.

Among the report’s other recommendations is for nonprofits to build better boards of directors through training and recruitment and establishing leadership-succession plans.

The report authors hope that donors will reflect on these trends and data and that nonprofits will explore how to collaborate to enhance their capabilities.

“Given the scale of our charitable sector, and its importance to the Valley,” says the report, “the time has come to move beyond business as usual and find new ways of working both at the organizational level, and at the community level.”

Sonoma Valley Fund officials say they want to “stimulate conversation.”

“We’re hoping (the report) will help donors and nonprofit leadership think more strategically about the future,” said Van Camp.

Both of the reports and the charts and graphs that accompany the report at available online at hiddeninplainsightSonoma.org

Email editor jason.walsh@sonomanews.com and business editor lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.