Welcome to the Nonprofit Perspective, your new space. This column is designed to keep you informed on developments affecting the nonprofit sector. Each month, we will focus on a topic of importance to the charitable organizations serving our community. 

To better set the scene, let me provide some perspective regarding Arizona’s nonprofit sector. The sector consists of more than 22,000 organizations (one nonprofit for every 303 Arizonans) that generate approximately 8 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. These organizations all have one goal in mind: To improve the quality of life in our community.  In Pima County, there are more than 3,700 nonprofits. They accomplish their missions in a myriad of ways using different models and strategies to make a difference.   

A recent report produced by a partnership between the L. William Seidman Research Institute on behalf of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits with support from the Arizona Community Foundation, J.R. Hollon & Associates, InMedia Company, The Phoenix Philanthropy Group, Salt River Project and others estimates that this broad field of organizations represent the state’s fifth-largest nongovernmental employer and is, directly and indirectly, responsible for some 332,000 jobs across the state. The majority (72 percent) of the $10.4 billion in revenue generated by the state’s nonprofit sector comes from government contracts, fees for services and earned income. This is a significant contribution to the state’s economic growth, and indicative of the important role nonprofits play in providing key social services to the state’s most vulnerable residents. 

To better understand the needs and impact of the human service community of nonprofits, the University of Arizona School of Sociology conducted the first-ever State of Tucson’s Human Service Nonprofit Sector Survey. This white paper was funded through the MAP Dashboard project, mapazdashboard.org, and prepared by Brian Mayer Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Sociology UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and David McBee, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, School of Sociology, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The goal of the paper was to identify any areas of human service delivery or need where we might do better as a community.  

According to the report, “Since the Great Recession, the City of Tucson has been dealing with one of the highest regional poverty rates in the country. With 25 percent of all households and 33 percent of all children living below the federal poverty level, there is a constant and pressing demand to meet the needs of these low-income households and provide the necessary assistant and support to alleviate the social problems commonly associated with poverty. Furthermore, helping these individuals and families improve their overall wellbeing and earning capacity such that they are able to move out of poverty remains a massive endeavor facing Southern Arizona.” 

The white paper concluded that above all other reported needs, the most urgent were lack of affordable housing; temporary rental and utility assistance; and temporary shelter during times of crisis.

The survey further concluded that “Collective impact remains an oft-touted goal for solving complex social problems that remains difficult to coordinate and accomplish nationwide (Kania and Kramer 2011). Although nonprofit organizations have attempted to solve these complex social problems like poverty through new collaborations for decades, most lack the right combination of nonprofit, private and public sector stakeholders over a sufficient commitment of time to successfully innovate and implement new and successful strategies. Tucson, like many other progressive communities facing systematic problems related to poverty, has a long history of developing new collaborations only to see the poverty rate largely unaffected.”

What is clear is that no single sector or organization can do it alone. We have come together, and must continue to do so across sectors to better serve our community. This space will be dedicated to that dialogue and in recognition of the quote from Halford E. Luccock that “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

This column will be used to share best practices, and create a forum to learn from each other, including those in the for-profit sector that serve us and can provide updates on the latest developments in accounting, finance, information systems and more. If you have an idea, strategy or information that can help us all better serve the community, please contact Ana Tello at atello@cfsaz.org.

J. Clinton Mabie is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.