Civic Life of Cities Lab

San Francisco Bay Area

Regional Overview


The San Francisco Bay Area has a long history of activism and engagement. The Bay Area is a fertile region for civil society organizations, out of which sprang environmental, free speech, women’s rights, gay rights and other movements. Although the Bay Area built its reputation for igniting change for progressive issues, in the 1980’s it began to transform itself into a tech-based economy across its various urban and suburban areas: San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Silicon Valley peninsula including Palo Alto and San Jose. Today, the ten-county region with over nine million people is known for being home to many of the world’s most influential technology companies—Google, Salesforce, Intel, Apple and many more. The region is also home to a large number of private foundations and wealthy community foundations. These features set the Bay Area apart as a hotbed of cultural and technological activity, but the area faces many issues experienced in other cities and regions around the world: inequality, homelessness, ineffective public transportation, and a rising cost of living.

The local nonprofit sector confronts the dual challenge of meeting ongoing demand for services while trying to operate in an increasingly challenging financial environment. Our study provides an inside look at the sector: organizations trying to maintain the Bay’s progressive heritage, others aiming to buoy individuals struggling with the fallout from technological growth, and diverse organizations serving the varied civic values of this multicultural region.

The interactive map below displays the distribution of a randomly selected group of nonprofits in the Bay Area. Participants in the the study will gain access to a password protected site to explore the various characteristics (size, age, issue area) of themselves in comparison to their nonprofit peers.


  • Total residents: 8.6 million 
  • Race: 40% White, 26% Hispanic, 24% Asian, 6% Black
  • Median household income: $88,000
  • Poverty rate: 10.6% 

Nonprofit Sector

  • Total nonprofit organizations: 15,000 
  • Nonprofit ratio: 573 people: 1 nonprofit organization 


  • Area: 10,191 sq. miles (26,390 sq. km)
  • Population density: 859/sq. mi (332/sq. km)
  • Founded: 1850 (date of incorporation)