Revitalizing Philanthropy Strategies Shared For San Francisco And Beyond
Fundraising Published Date, 2023

Revitalizing Philanthropy: Strategies Shared For San Francisco And Beyond

Created By: Adam Glick
November 30, 2023

San Francisco is a place of big ideas, each accompanied by its own set of unique implementation challenges. The City’s downtown has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and it has struggled to rebound fully since. According to the commercial real estate firm CBRE, office vacancies downtown are at nearly 34% as of November 2023 – the highest in two years. San Francisco is also dealing with a disproportionate set of challenges relative to its population (approx. 715,000), especially considering how the pandemic affected people visiting and living downtown, where, historically, 75% of the City’s tax revenue is derived.

Philanthropy drives and is powered by the communities it serves. As institutions and individuals come together in revitalizing Downtown San Francisco, nonprofit organizations have an important role to play at the nexus of social, cultural, and political change across the Bay Area. In response to this growing need, Orr Group recently brought together an impressive group of Bay Area philanthropic leaders for a dynamic conversation, focusing on the challenges of and opportunities for their work across programming, grant-making, and donor engagement. Orr Group’s Partner and Chief Growth Officer, Craig Shelley, and I moderated the discussion, which was also guided by Sara Fenske Bahat, CEO of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (and one of Orr Group’s clients), along with Kim Meredith, CEO of San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.

Attending organizations included American Red Cross, California Emerging Technology Fund, Give2Asia, Hirsch Philanthropy Partners, HomeRise, Meals on Wheels of San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, UC Berkeley Coleman Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, UCSF Rosenman Institute, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Throughout the conversation, we heard from several nonprofit leaders in different sectors that the transactionality of philanthropic investment in San Francisco is unlike what they’ve experienced elsewhere. Motivating and engaging donors isn’t as obvious as it is in parts of the US where being “in the room” with other well-known philanthropists is a draw, nor is having their support publicized necessarily a driver of increased investment.

Despite these challenges (or because of them!), the conversation was underscored by how San Francisco remains full of energy and enthusiasm, with its nonprofit leaders eager to position the City as an innovator and agent of social change that can extend beyond its borders. California, and specifically, the Bay Area, has always seen itself as a place that often sets a model for the rest of the county to follow.

Our conversation provided a window into how philanthropic leaders are seeing their call to action to construct a new framework for philanthropy and propel real change across sectors, from food and housing insecurity to arts and culture, healthcare, tech, and more. Just a month prior to our discussion, YBCA opened its triennial exhibition, Bay Area Now 9, with over 2,000 attendees. The building was more alive than it had been in years, filled with artists, creatives, collectors, members, donors, and anyone eager to bring life back to Downtown San Francisco through art, culture, and community.

Beyond our discussion of San Francisco’s current philanthropic landscape, there was a lively exchange of insights about the trends attendees are seeing in fundraising. Below are several key takeaways:

Support matters at all levels.

While select mega-philanthropists behind transformational gifts are a focus for any organization, lower-dollar donors are increasingly important to retain and expand a base of support that is essential to an organization’s community for the longer term. Ensuring there are opportunities for in-person engagement is critical to connecting donors at all levels with your organization, whether that be through volunteerism, special events, fireside chats, or other programs.

Revitalization is a team sport.

It’s imperative that nonprofits think of ways to collaborate with each other regularly and strategically. After our discussion, many attendees asked to continue the conversation and for the opportunity to keep learning from each other as they observe how philanthropy is evolving.

Some things are universal, some aren’t.

What works for donor engagement in New York might not work in San Francisco. What is a best practice, no matter where you are, is to ask your donors directly what excites them and incentivizes their giving, and how they see themselves as part of your organization. As new models of philanthropy continue to emerge, hearing from donors directly is critical to an organization’s current and future success.

As Orr Group continues to work with leading nonprofits across the US and internationally, this conversation further informed our thinking of how to adapt our strategies and approaches to fundraising for organizations whose location is an asset, though one that comes with a unique set of challenges. We left the table with some answers, even more questions, and a genuine sense of how this group of leaders will continue to come together in service of revitalization efforts for their beloved city to the benefit of the organizations they serve, and for all of us.

Orr Group specializes in developing fundraising strategies that are as unique and innovative as they are actionable and achievable. Get in touch to learn how we can help you develop the right strategy for your organization.

Adam Glick is a Senior Director at Orr Group and leads the firm’s partnership with YBCA. Adam brings extensive sector experience and a specialty in the arts and culture space to develop and implement innovative strategies for our partners, focusing equally on the efficiency of internal systems and workflows while driving frontline fundraising efforts.

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