Nonprofit organizations play a significant role in the economic and social development of Arizona, with over 22,000 nonprofits responsible for directly or indirectly employing more than 332,000 people (Inside Tucson Business). This makes the nonprofit sector the fifth-largest employer in Arizona, eclipsing the number of jobs in the construction, manufacturing, finance, agriculture, and education industries.
In Tucson and Pima County, we see an even bigger impact. Pima County hosts over 3,700 nonprofits, averaging a nonprofit for every 265 residents, a higher per-capita percentage than the more populous Maricopa County. According to an economic report from Arizona Community Foundation, Pima nonprofits create over 63,000 jobs and generate $3.2 billion in wages and salaries. This makes the nonprofit sector one of the most important linchpins of our county’s economy.
A Culture of Innovation
For the past decade, Arizona nonprofits have been doing more with less as state funding dried up. A report from Eller College’s Making Action Possible program found that “more and more organizations have become less reliant on state-based funding as contracts for social service delivery have been reduced.”
Despite the reduction in state aid, the report found that Arizona nonprofits have embraced innovative techniques to keep their organizations lean and effective.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few examples of Tucson-based nonprofit organizations that are innovating their way to success.
Josh Schachter launched CommunityShare in 2015 from an idea influenced by a high school experience in which he met a wildlife biologist who connected the dots between the real-world work of a scientist and high school science lessons. Schachter went on to study biology as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University.
Similar to Josh’s experience, CmmunityShare aims to expose students to the workforce through online and offline services that provide “realistic, in-depth perspectives on various occupations” within the students’ community. This year, CommunityShare was ranked among the top 100 most inspiring K-12 innovations by HundrEd, a Finnish nonprofit that studies community-based learning programs.
Founded in 2011, Startup Tucson supports entrepreneurs with low-priced courses and mentoring through every stage of growth. This includes the Startup Lab, a monthly clinic that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to “design, tinker, iterate, scrap, and rebuild their business model.”
Along with its in-house programs, Startup Tucson also organizes the TENWEST Impact Festival, an annual event convening artists, entrepreneurs, and creatives in order to share ideas and resources to solve some of our most challenging community problems.
Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA)
Since its founding in 2015, SAACA has created over 200,000 new arts experiences. These include annual events like the Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival and ongoing events such as open studio tours and the Tucson Premium Outlets Concert Series.
This year, SAACA is preparing to embark on its biggest project yet with Catalyst, a mixed-use maker space that will repurpose a vacant retail storefront in the Tucson Mall. Slated to open this September, Catalyst aims to be a one-stop-shop for the artistically curious, while reimagining the American mall experience.
These are just a few examples of nonprofits making big moves in Tucson, but there are countless organizations helping to make our state a healthier and happier place to live. With this year’s Arizona Gives Day raising a record-breaking $3.6 million (AZ Big Media), it’s clear that Arizonans recognize the invaluable role that nonprofits play in our state’s well-being.
Mike Trueba, CCIM is Vice President, Business Banking for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.9 billion financial institution, which serves a growing Membership of nearly 160,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA. VantageWest.org