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USD releases first ever economic index for local nonprofits

The first ever index assessing the economic health of the county’s nonprofits was released Thursday at the University of San Diego.

Assembled by the University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research, the State of Nonprofits Quarterly Index will chart the nonprofit sector’s growth or lack of growth.

It will also say something about the larger local economy, said Laura Deitrick, the director of the Caster Family Center.

“We still do not talk about nonprofits as part of San Diego’s economic engine and we really should,” she said. “Nonprofits pay taxes, spend money in this region and provide 6 percent of total wages in San Diego County.”

The index is made up of seven indicators: public confidence, individual giving, volunteerism, demand for service, nonprofit sector wages, nonprofit employment and the county’s unemployment.

From April to September, the index’s first data set, the results were mixed. The index found public confidence decreased by 1.2 percent, individual giving decreased by 1 percent and demand for services increased by 6.5 percent, while volunteerism increased by 0.8 percent, nonprofit sector wages increased by 3.7 percent and nonprofit job postings increased by 1.5 percent.

The county’s overall unemployment increased by 0.2 percent.

Data for nonprofit wages and job postings were based on a sample of trend reporter nonprofits. Other sources of the data were nonprofit job search engines, the California Employment Development Department, the Caster Family Center’s giving and volunteering survey and 2-1-1 San Diego call data.

The report also includes “Notes from the CEO’s Desk,” which compiles trends and anonymous and attributed quotes from local nonprofit CEOs.

Two words most cited by these CEOs were “funding” and “services,” said Taylor Peyton Roberts, a graduate student who worked on the index project.

The index also found that more than 60 percent of CEO responses focused on decreased funding streams as funding from individual, corporation, foundation and government sources decreased during the economic recession.

For many nonprofits, these challenges mean decreased services, staff layoffs and cash flow issues, according to these CEO reports.

Fred Galloway, a USD professor of education, worked to compile and analyze the data for the index. He said it was a start, but does not provide a complete picture of nonprofits in San Diego.

“I don’t want to present this as fait accompli,” he said. “This is an initial launch, and we will grow from here.”

Deitrick said the initial impetus for the index was gathering more up-to-date information.

“This was born out of frustration,” she said. “I did not like relying on data that was two years old. The purpose of the project is gathering real time, current data.”

She said she hopes the index will be used by CEOs, funders, policy makers, the media and the general public and will grow to the level of other economic indicators that are regularly used and cited.

“Until now, nonprofit leaders have had limited access to this type of information,” she said.

But these nonprofit leaders need the type of data the index will provide to make decisions about their programs, she said.

Deitrick said she expects the index will continue to grow.

“As we enroll more trend reporters, we will gather a more representative sample,” she said.

The Caster Family Center also created a website for the index, which summarizes its results and data collection methods. The site can be found at stateofnonprofits.org.

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