While some philanthropic organizations are still successfully raising money, others are facing 20 to 30 percent drops in donations and assets, limiting their ability to do what they do best - give.
And with the demand for health and human services higher than ever, nonprofits are facing serious challenges. But many in the nonprofit sector said it's going to take a lot more than a global economic crisis to break San Diego's generous spirit.
"It's depressing, but there is hope," said Bob Kelly, president of the San Diego Foundation. "There are still incredibly generous people out there."
Some nonprofits are doing surprisingly well with their own fundraising.
For example, the Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito raised more than they ever have at a recent event, said President Keith Padgett. "Bucks for Boys and Girls" netted $130,000, which is $20,000 more than last year's function.
But the nonprofit is taking no chances and creatively trimmed its budget by $300,000, Padgett said. However, no cuts are planned for programs and services, especially at a time when parents may need a more affordable alternative for children's sports, art, music and other after-school programs, Padgett said.
Similarly, the Del Mar Education Foundation is almost on target with efforts to fund enrichment programs at the district's eight elementary schools, Foundation President Matt Zevin said.
However, the need is greater this year because the district's primary revenue source, a percentage of property taxes, has decreased as property values have dropped.
Zevin said he is "cautiously optimistic" that parents in the affluent Del Mar area will still be able to fill the larger gap.
"It's a matter of priorities," Zevin said. "I think if they see the need, they will be able to step up despite the downturn."
These organizations may be the exception to the rule. Other groups like the Del Mar Rotary are dramatically adjusting their budgets.
The rotary's annual golf tournament struggled to raise $10,000, which is about 30 percent below last year's event.
"Discretionary spending has gone out the window," said Rob Mullally, the club's president.
Mullally said the Rotarians plan to continue giving to local and international projects, but grants will be smaller than in past years.
The San Diego Foundation and Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, which manage $550 million and $30 million in assets respectively, have both taken a 20 percent hit in the stock market.
Since operations are based on a small percentage investment fee, they've had to cut their budgets or dip into reserves.
The goods news is individuals with endowment funds or foundations are still giving and giving broadly, Kelly said. Instead of supporting just one favorite charity, donors are spreading the wealth to numerous recipients, he noted.
The bad news is that they are not replenishing their funds and individual contributions have slowed considerably.
"There's still a lot of people with a lot of wealth," Kelly said. "But people are wary, they don't know what's going to happen next."
Additionally, Kelly predicts the major foundations like Ford, Gates and Rockefeller, which have all lost billions in the past few months, will not be spending as much next year and the full impact of that reduction will take awhile to trickle down.
"Not-for-profits are going to get hurt more and more over the next year because ... the resources are not there," Kelly said.
That's why the San Diego Foundation has launched a "Survive and Thrive Initiative" to help nonprofits rethink how they do business. The foundation plans to host workshops about how to find new resources and ways to be more efficient, which could include mergers.
Not giving up
The Foundation is not letting up on its fundraising campaign.
"We're letting people know this is not the time to back off," Kelly said. "This is the time neighbors help neighbors."
'Tis the season
Even though November and December are the most charitable time of year, Kelly said the slowing trend would likely continue. However, he urged everyone to donate to a favorite charity, or talk to a foundation for advice on which to support.
Christie Wilson, executive director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, also said she did not expect to make up the year's 30 to 40 percent drop in donations all in one month. She, too, encouraged individuals to give, even if only $25, to their Armed Forces Interest Group, which aims to raise $600,000 for military families.
"Now is when people who have the ability can make a difference in people's lives," Wilson said.
While the future may look bleak, Kelly said nonprofit leaders and volunteers are an incredibly optimistic bunch and are hoping for a few holiday miracles.
"This time of year anonymous donors show up, the Santa Clauses," Kelly said. "Everybody's waiting for Santa Claus."
San Diego Foundation
Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito
Del Mar Education Foundation
Del Mar Rotary
Rancho Santa Fe Foundation