Report on West Marin Fund’s Survey of Local Nonprofits

As part of its effort to serve local nonprofits, the West Marin Fund began its work by surveying more than 30 West Marin organizations representing a broad range of activities including health, education, science, and the arts. The research was conducted by Fund volunteers who personally met in teams of two with the surveyed groups and asked a number of questions including these:

  1. What is your mission?
  2. What is the composition of your board?
  3. What paid staff do you have?
  4. What keeps you from fully achieving your mission?
  5. What is your annual budget?
  6. Do you project a funding shortfall in fiscal 2012?
  7. Do you expect your expenses to increase in that year?
  8. Do you need more volunteers?
  9. What help could the WMF best offer you?

Dozens of others were included in a written survey.

Here, broadly, is what we learned:

The Missions

They each are specific, ranging from a tight focus of maintaining a historical library to broad service through community health care and radio communication.  The missions included art display and production, education (early through adult), local history, literacy, health care, providing land for families and groups, affordable housing, recycling of goods, producing jobs, providing facilities for community use, support of common spaces and parks, emergency response, preservation of historic buildings, producing and housing performance art including music, dance and drama and environmental protection.  In one case, Bolinas Community Center, the charter allows any activity which a local government could do but doesn’t.

Board Composition

The boards ranged in size from 3 to 20.  About half the groups were looking for more board members, especially persons with technical skills such as accounting, computer/IT, public relations.  Typically the boards were composed of persons arising from the nonprofit’s service area (parents, artists, persons interested in education or parks or housing) instead of a more urban model of donors and financial resources.

Paid Staff

It ranged from 33 full time equivalents to zero.  About a third of the groups have zero employees.  Most had 1 to 3.

Limits on Accomplishing Mission

Funding was the dominant theme, especially for ongoing operating funds, but also for capital projects (art center, performance center, archival storage, space with stable rent). Besides the shortfalls, the increasing unpredictability in funding hampered planning, service and growth.

In addition, tech help was widely mentioned as was a shortage of board members and turnover in the board.  Lack of transportation for groups (Senior Services) came up as did the lack of affordable graphics and website help.  Particular limits included bureaucratic hurdles for KWMR and a dwindling school population for Stinson School.

Budget Size

It ranged from zero (spend when receive) to $3,000,000.  The median budget was closer to $150,000.

Any Expected Shortfall in the coming Fiscal Year

Most organizations felt they were ok for next year (though as one person said “we are dancing faster and faster just to stay in place”).  Cuts have happened and will continue as a trend but no unmanageable (fatal) shortfalls were expected.

This ability to survive comes in the face of recent substantial cutbacks in funding, from MCF as it changed its priorities and from government and large foundations.

There is a trend, especially among smaller organizations, to use events for fundraising, despite the very high effort to yield ratio.

Expenses Expected to Increase?

Generally groups do not expect expenses to increase in the near future and many plan on continued cuts.  A minority see increases being needed to serve their mission.

Need for More Volunteers

Nearly all said this was a need, typically in targeted areas such as high tech, social media, graphics, accounting, planned giving, strategic planning, data base management. bicultural relations, board training, marketing and communications.

The Best Ways for West Marin Fund to Help

Funding was the most frequently mentioned.

But other areas, together, were mentioned as much:  IT help, a joint calendar, a database for all to use, website development and maintenance, HR resources, shared accounting support, bridge loans to nonprofits, social media help, payroll systems, collective health insurance and retirement programs, loans for businesses and other heavy users to switch to solar systems and help with other capital projects (land for expansion of Dance Palace, space for art center for Gallery Route One and improvement of its existing space, stable rent space for Community Services, land for affordable housing groups).

One group commented that it was helpful and needed to have an organization such as WMF keep a larger vision for all of West Marin and not just individual towns and nonprofits.  That would include identifying needs not now served by any nonprofit and stimulating startups to do that.

Facilitating regular meetings of nonprofits would be useful.

 

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