Blog Posts · Nonprofits

San Diego’s Nonprofit Academy

Last week the City of San Diego and the Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego held the City of San Diego Nonprofit Academy, a free, two-day training program with the stated goal of growing existing nonprofits and increasing the quantity, quality, and diversity of nonprofits competing for social services contracts.

When I worked in the Stamford, CT, mayor’s office, I worked closely with the city’s youth-serving nonprofits. When I read about San Diego’s nonprofit academy, I immediately envisioned something like this working in a progressive, innovative city like Stamford. I would’ve loved it: selfishly building capacity while telling a group en masse what we expected applicants would and would not do…like a live FAQ…and what we need from nonprofits.

The workshops they offered are pretty ambitious; because of that, I’m sure they focus on key concepts specific to their unique grantmaking needs. Local governments typically have extensive attachments required with their applications, require applicants to use specific budget categories, and increasingly require the use of specific outcomes frameworks. And let’s face it: Many nonprofits are still struggling with the task of defining, measuring, and using performance indicators and results. When a grantmaker tells you exactly what to avoid, provides definitions, and spells out non-negotiables, nonprofits can more easily write a responsive application.

My big questions are:

  • How do nonprofits who’ve participated in the past rate the experience? Specifically, do they feel better equipped to respond to an RFP? The academy’s website notes that “in post-academy surveys, 75 percent of respondents indicated they had better understanding of City funding opportunities, and 70 percent had taken steps to implement new practices.”
  • How do the two academy partners measure the academy’s success? Are they receiving a greater number of responsive applications? Are they finding, for instance, 4 out of 5 applications are responsive versus 3 out of 5 before they began offering the academy? In this case, having a tougher job awarding contracts would be a wonderful problem.

Next? An online kit or webinar offered by the City of San Diego (perhaps funded by a national foundation interested in urban social safety nets) that helps other cities replicate the academy experience.


San Diego’s nonprofit academy core workshops were:

  • Program Design and Development
  • Organizational Leadership and Governance
  • Budgeting and Finance
  • Evaluation and Impact
  • Developing Strategy

Electives included courses such as:

  • Volunteerism
  • Nonprofit Governance and Contract Compliance
  • Financial Basics
  • Social Innovation and Human Centered Design
  • Partnering with the City