San Diego Business Journal

BY CASSANDRA DUMP

Although for-profit businesses seem to be slowly sinking in the midst of a recession, rising unemployment rates and government bailout plans, local nonprofits are staying afloat by finding new ways to breathe life into their sails.

"We are having to do more with less," said Chris Carter, communications director for the San Diego Food Bank, which feeds 200,000 people countywide each month through 300 charitable organizations and has 18,000 volunteers.

Operating on the same donation levels as 2007, the Food Bank has seen a steady increase in food distribution between its first and second quarters of 2008. La Mesa has increased by 102 percent, Spring Valley by 69 percent, Chula Vista 34 percent and the city of San Diego 25 percent.

As of now, they are able to sustain their programs, but demand is expected to go up in 2009 with continued economic turmoil.

"We are explaining our situation in very real terms. It's letting the community know this problem exists," Carter said. "The bottom line is we need people to give, or people will go hungry."

Since January 2008, more than 17,000 county residents have signed up for the Food Bank's Emergency Food Assistance Program. It retained its full-time staff of 27 employees, with no layoffs in 2008 and none anticipated in the near future.

"We have a very lean staff," Carter said. "Comparable organizations around the country operate with 35-40 staff members."

Hopeful Signs

Great Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting military cancer patients and their families, says its monetary donations have remained the same and their tangible giving donations increased 20 percent in comparison with 2007. Founded in 2007 as part of the San Diego Athletes for Education programs, Great Community marked its most successful toy drive in foundation history in December.

Founder Omar Carranza says Great Community's fundraising efforts changed in 2008.

"We reached out to more people and took smaller individual contributions," Carranza said. "There was no wiggle room this year. We were not able to reimburse our volunteers for anything, but they understood."

In 2008, the organization assisted 150 families with nearly $10,000 in donations. Without a single paid staff member, the charity relies solely on volunteers. The only heightened need for assistance it experienced came when gas prices spiked in the spring.

Additionally, the Marshall Faulk Foundation fared well for its first year in San Diego. The foundation, previously based in St. Louis and started by former San Diego State University football star Marshall Faulk, is structured to raise and allocate funds for existing programs that support causes with an emphasis on assisting youth athletic programs.

Executive Director Brandi Greenleaf admits it was difficult coming to a city that already has several successful athletic foundations, and that sponsorship dollars were hard to secure for events with businesses allocating fewer funds for charitable giving.

"Being new to San Diego we looked for a variety of ways to raise money and to let people know we were here, but our efforts did not really change due to the economy," Greenleaf said.

Beginning this year, the foundation will offer a $15,000 scholarship to an incoming freshman football player selected from the San Diego area. Funds for the scholarship are raised through the foundation's annual Aztecs For Life event.

Contributions Decreasing

The San Diego Association of Nonprofits conducted a year-end survey of its members and, out of the 28 nonprofits reporting, 43 percent have seen a decrease in individual contributions of 10 percent or more. Thirty-six percent said it is too soon to determine the effect of their individual donor campaigns on their organizations.

Carranza said: "The past year was very difficult and took a lot of hard work to keep our recipients content. We are happy to put it behind us."