Bay Area nonprofit leaders sounded pretty optimistic and focused on growth at a breakfast gathering I attended last week, entitled “Conversations with Social Entrepreneurs: 2010 and Beyond,” sponsored by Commongood Careers and Building Movement Project. At the beginning of the three-hour gathering at a downtown hotel, James Weinberg, founder and CEO of Commongood Careers, had the group of about 50 give a two-word description of how they were feeling. Attendees, who were mostly from education and youth development nonprofits, shouted out adjectives along the lines of “cautiously optimistic,” “growing,” “opportunities ahead,” and “pumped!”  The spirit in the room was energetic.

Kudos to Commongood Careers and Building Movement Project for bringing social entrepreneurs together for a chance to network; with job demands it’s always tough to take the time to get together.  These two organizations are holding four such breakfast events. The other three have already taken place in New York City, Boston, and Washington, DC. The purpose of the events is to discuss nonprofits’ collective opportunities and challenges as well as the role “human capital management strategies” will play in their organizations this year.

Attendees are answering a brief survey on their organizations’ budgets, plans, and 2010 challenges. Survey results will be available on the Commongood Careers website in late February. Early results were handed out at our gathering – and comparisons between the Bay Area and the other three cities were intriguing.  (I don’t know how statistically valid the data is but the results were fun to look at nevertheless.)

Across the country, respondents said that a “significantly increased focus to secure gifts from high net worth individuals” was their number one funding goal in 2010, but the response was much higher from Bay Area nonprofits than from nonprofits in the other three cities.  Also according to these preliminary results, in order of priority, after high net worth individuals, Bay Area nonprofits were going to look for corporate partners second, and foundation grants, third.  In the rest of the country, all of these funding sources had about the same priority.

The San Francisco gathering included a panel discussion, and several panelists echoed what the survey data showed. BUILD in particular has been successful in changing its mix of funding to have more of an emphasis on individual donors. The social entrepreneurs on the panel were Suzanne McKechnie Klahr (BUILD), Louise Davis (Peer Health Exchange), and Jill Vialet (Playworks). These three panelists kept up the enthusiasm in the room by sharing their recent impressive successes and their growth plans for 2010.

The fourth panelist was Anne Marie Burgoyne (Draper Richards Foundation), who shared her insights from working with so many Draper Richards grantees (full disclosure: Draper Richards is one of the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s funders). Anne Marie commented that it didn’t surprise her that Bay Area nonprofits had a higher focus on pursuing individual donors given the wealth in the region. She also noted that she has seen that foundations are pulling back and choosing to fund what’s safe. As for corporate funding, Anne Marie said she is observing more partnerships and fewer dollars. She ended by encouraged nonprofits to pass by the “shiny pennies” on the road and stay focused on mission and their organizations’ strengths.

Overall, James noted several surprises he had from the survey: that most nonprofits expected their budget and program levels would expand this year and that government was fairly low on the list as a source of funding.

How about your organization?  Do you plan to grow your budget and programs this year? What funding balance are you aiming for (looking at individual donors, corporate funding, foundation grants, and government support) and has that balance shifted this year? Is the Bay Area a funding anomaly?