San Francisco Bay Area: A Left Coast Metropolis Grapples with Technocracy and Inequality

How do civic organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area straddle the paradox of challenging entrenched inequalities in an ostensibly progressive region that has been transformed by tech-driven wealth? Local nonprofits face the tension of maintaining access to elite resources while building connections to distribute those resources and navigate divides between the haves and have-nots. We draw on original data collected over the course of two decades on a representative sample of Bay Area nonprofit organizations. With rich information from both quantitative and qualitative data, we examine different aspects of nonprofits’ relationship to their constituents and environments, including their community embeddedness, cross-sector collaborations, and engagement in advocacy. We then turn to the internal operations of these organizations and survey the professional backgrounds of nonprofit leaders and the usage of practices that purportedly make nonprofits more professional, accountable, and digitally savvy. Our findings reveal a sector that is developing its own model of what community-directed management looks like, neither tethered strictly to a Left Coast ethos nor displaying uniform responses to strong institutional pressures. Although the Bay Area sector pursues heterogeneous approaches to repairing social ruptures, there is a consistent theme of rebuilding and re-creating community. We argue that the region’s diversity in values, practices, and orientations stems from fighting deep fractures that resist simple solutions in a place marked by paradox.