Bringing Attention to Nonprofit Displacement Challenges

The Bay Area is experiencing a rapid and dramatic increase in commercial real estate costs, with San Francisco recently surpassing Manhattan as the most expensive place to rent office space in the United States. This boom has a lot of Bay Area nonprofits under serious stress—some are facing steep rent increases, and many more worry about being displaced from their workspaces and communities.

In order to draw more attention to these challenges, a coalition of local private and public funders (led by Northern California Grantmakers and The San Francisco Foundation) invited Harder+Company to survey their grantees about their current workspaces and concerns for the future. The coalition needed tangible data about the magnitude of this challenge to inform funding, advocacy, and policy decisions. Through this survey we heard from almost 500 nonprofits in the Bay Area—here are some of the most striking things we learned:

  • Serious concern: 4 out of 5 respondents (82%) are concerned that the real estate market will hurt their financial sustainability.
  • Facing a move: 2 out of 3 of respondents (68%) expect to make a decision about moving in the next five years—most of them in the next two years.
  • More frequent moves: More than a third of respondents (38%) have already moved at least once in the last five years. Two-thirds (67%) said cost was a factor in their reason for moving.

Location is particularly important for nonprofit organizations because so many of them serve and support their local community, yet many are challenged to afford the communities they are serving. To bring attention to this issue, we’re helping Northern California Grantmakers, The San Francisco Foundation, and their partners share these findings with hundreds of nonprofits and funders in the region, and the report is attracting the attention of local media. The full report is available here.

What did it take to make all this happen?

First, we had to be very collaborative and flexible. We worked closely with the funder task force to get their input on the research questions, the survey tool, and early findings. Their insights made this work stronger.

Second, we had to move quickly. We drafted a survey, integrated feedback, tested it, and got it into the field in a matter of weeks. Once the responses were in, we worked around the clock to analyze findings fast enough to be useful for local planning efforts.

Finally, we had to be thoughtful storytellers. Our team translated complicated data analysis into simple, easy-to-read visualizations. We also worked with our clients and partners to craft the story of the data. This meant figuring out what would be most compelling for presenting to hundreds of audience members at a series of community forums.


Update 5/26/17: San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced $2.7 million in grant awards to support permanent real estate and long-term leases for nonprofit organizations in San Francisco. We are thrilled to see the City’s commitment to keeping nonprofits in San Francisco, and are proud to have helped Northern California Grantmakers raise awareness about the issue of nonprofit displacement.