Tax season got us thinking about tax-exempt organizations in Napa County, and the fairly common concern we hear expressed by some of our donors: "Aren't there too many nonprofits in our relatively small community?"
Or put another way: "Don't we have a lot of overlap and duplication of services?"
These are valid questions, because as of 2009 (the latest year for which complete data from the IRS is available) there were 563 public charities incorporated in Napa County--or roughly one nonprofit for every 240 residents, which is about 25 percent higher than the statewide average for California. There are another 50 organizations that are classified as private family foundations--known as private nonoperating foundations in IRS parlance.
Included in the mix: large organizations that employ hundreds of people, like our two nonprofit hospitals; small grassroots organizations run chiefly by volunteers (Federation of Fly Fishers, anyone?); and, a cadre of medium-sized public charities that do most of the work that needs doing in our community, and which typically have annual operating budgets between $300,000 and $1 million.
Beyond the large and small charitable organizations above, Napa County has another 300 groups that are not public charities, but which are exempt from taxation under different sections of the Internal Revenue Code. These groups include Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, service clubs, professional organizations, and fraternal orders, to name a few.
All together, we have nearly 900 tax-exempt organizations in our community. Some compete for donors' attention and checkbooks, but nearly all jostle for time on the busy calendars of their supporters and members.
At the Community Foundation, we aren't losing sleep about the number of public charities that exist in Napa County. Yes, we have more than the statewide average, but we think this says something important about the unique characteristics of our community.
In Napa Valley, people show up to lend a hand. They offer support to their neighbors. And periodically, they establish public charities to pursue particular activities of keen interest to a fairly narrow group of stakeholders. In fact, more than one-third of the 563 nonprofits listed above are what we'd call "single-purpose" entities, which more or less exist to host an annual crab feed or fundraiser for a particular sports club, school music program, service group, etc.
Our region also is unique because we are a rural county. Transportation is much more challenging than it would be in a dense place like San Francisco, especially for older residents and lower-income residents. By having food pantries, family resource centers and mental health services up and down the Valley, we greatly increase the likelihood that vulnerable people will actually find the support they need.
In our view, organizations that understand the distinct opportunities and challenges of a particular neighborhood or group of residents are more likely to be embraced by the people they aspire to serve, as well as their donors. Being a locally-based nonprofit means being part of the community, which builds trust among people seeking services, as well as potential supporters.
To see the list of 501(c)3 public charities incorporated in Napa County that is published on our website, go to
Terence P. Mulligan