Civic Engagement

How Are We Doing?

Civic engagement received a thumbs up because the number of San Diego County households who volunteered increased by 8% and the number of households who made a cash donation to a local charity increased by 4% between 2018 and 2019. Volunteering and charitable giving are two fundamental ways that people in the United States participate in and contribute to their communities.

Want to know more about what we're measuring?

thumbs up

Improved more than one percent from 2018 to 2019


San Diego volunteers provide critical unpaid labor leading tours in museums, tutoring children in schools, serving food to homeless families, and cleaning up beaches and parks.

The percent of San Diego residents who volunteer has remained stable for the past eight years. In 2019, 36% of San Diego residents reported volunteering for a local nonprofit, three percentage points higher than in 2018.

Although the number of volunteers has remained stable, the number of hours people spend volunteering has fluctuated since 2012. The average quarterly number of hours people volunteered decreased slightly from 27 hours in 2018 to 24 hours in 2019.

Charitable Giving

In addition to volunteering, charitable giving is an important way for people to support the causes they care most about, and donations account for a substantial percentage of funding for local nonprofits in the region.

The percent of households who donate in San Diego County has remained very steady for the past eight years. In 2019, 45% of households donated to a nonprofit compared to 43% in 2018.

Among residents who donate, the amount of money donated has increased considerably since 2015. However, the average quarterly dollars donated decreased slightly from $361 in 2018 to $347 in 2019.

Confidence in Local Institutions

Trust in San Diego’s institutions is essential to maintaining a high level of community engagement. Trust is the bedrock on which the nonprofit sector rests and the public’s confidence drives their engagement in the sector. Based on research on San Diego’s nonprofit sector, individuals who express confidence in nonprofits are two times more likely to donate and three times more likely to volunteer.

San Diegans continually express higher levels of confidence in local nonprofits than in local businesses or government. In 2019, 85% of a sample of San Diego residents reported confidence in nonprofits compared to 66% in businesses and 53% in local government.

Why is Civic Engagement Important?

High quality of life means the region boasts a thriving economy, a healthy environment, and is an equitable place for all San Diegans to grow and prosper.

  • Environment: For decades, environmental justice efforts have prioritized community engagement at the local level and helped bring awareness to the environmental challenges communities face. The rapidly changing climate calls for heightened levels of engagement that catalyzes community voice and input as a critical strategy to address the environmental challenges we face today. San Diego County has seen increased participation in marches and political action around climate change and the number of climate-focused advocacy nonprofits has increased.
  • Economy: Civic participation in the form of attending meetings, volunteering, helping neighbors, registering to vote, volunteering, and voting, can strengthen economic resilience, and protect against unemployment.
  • Equity: One way to close the equity gap in San Diego is promoting civic participation. Through actions such as voting and volunteering, people develop knowledge and skills and broaden their social networks. Research suggests that communities with higher rates of civic participation have higher rates of social capital and lower rates of income inequality.

Regional Response


RISE San Diego and Leaders 2020 are programs encouraging civic engagement through developing young leaders. RISE San Diego develops urban leaders to become civically engaged in the neighborhoods in which they live and work. Leaders 2020 provides education, training, and networking opportunities to support young leaders in building a more environmentally and economically sustainable San Diego.


The Center on Policy Initiatives supports a number of coalitions consisting of community members whose goal is influencing local government and policies for the betterment of San Diego and its people. Raise Up San Diego and Invest in San Diego Families (ISDF) are two of the coalitions with a focus on economic prosperity and investment in people and communities respectively.

What Are We Measuring?

The Nonprofit Institute partners with Luth Research in the administration of a quarterly survey to gauge San Diegans’ perceptions of local nonprofits and to measure their giving and volunteering activities. The State of Nonprofits Quarterly Index is administered online to a panel of San Diego residents. The sample reflects the racial and ethnic distribution of the region. Learn more about the data.