urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Research Area: Nonprofit Sector


The nonprofit sector has been growing steadily, both in size and financial impact, for more than a decade.  Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits has increased 25 percent; from 1,259,764 million to 1,574,674 million today.  The growth rate of the nonprofit sector has surpassed the rate of both the business and government sectors.

In 2010, nonprofits contributed products and services that added $779 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product; 5.4 percent of GDP.  Nonprofits are also a major employer, accounting for 9 percent of the economy’s wages, and over 10 percent of jobs in 2009.

But, as nonprofits face devastating recession-driven revenue shortages and projected budget shortfalls from many state and local governments, this could reverse the trend as donors cut back, contracts are cancelled, and foundation endowments shrink.

Urban Institute researchers study the role and impact of nonprofits, performance measurement, nonprofit governance, charitable giving and volunteering trends, and nonprofit and government contracting.

Tax Policy and Charities

The Tax Policy and Charities project, a collaboration of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, analyzes the many interactions between the tax system and the charitable sector, with special emphasis on ongoing fiscal debates at both the federal and state levels. Our scope includes income and estate tax deductions for charitable giving; income- and property-tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations; and private foundation excise taxes, among other issues. More >

Nonprofit Government Relations

Governments rely heavily on nonprofits to deliver a range of critical services, from homeless shelters to job training.  Likewise, many nonprofits rely heavily on revenues from government contracts and grants to finance their activities and expand their reach. This new initiative provides a comprehensive look at the scope of government contracts and grants with human service nonprofits in the US and addresses how nonprofits are coping with the recession and responding to government budget woes. More >

Outcomes & Effective Practices Portal

The Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute embarked on a new multiyear project to create an electronic portal that contains information on outcomes and effective practices for nonprofit leaders and philanthropic donors. Joining forces with Child Trends and Social Solutions, a software firm, the team envisions a one-stop online portal that will have basic information on outcome indicators, logic models, evidence-based practices and general guidance on performance management. The Outcomes and Effective Practices Portal (OEPP) will provide a full suite of materials for nonprofits seeking to begin measuring outcomes and targeted materials for nonprofits that are seeking indicators and tools to supplement their existing performance measurement efforts. Veiw the brochure

NCCS Community Platform

The NCCS Community Platform is a new project that seeks to combine NCCS data with maps and other web tools to help communities and nonprofit organizations work together more effectively. Around the country, we are working with community foundations, United Ways, state nonprofit associations, community action and development organizations, and local governments to inspire transformative community change. View the brochure >

Outcome Indicators Project

Many nonprofits lack the know-how or resources to measure their program results, but this information can be critical for improving their activities and reporting to funders. Our Outcome Indicators Project gives nonprofits a performance-tracking framework that delivers timely, meaningful, and practical feedback. More >


Having reliable and timely data on the nonprofit sector is vital for researchers, policy makers, and the public to assess the role and impact that nonprofits play in the economy and to ensure accountability.  Our National Center for Charitable Statistics is a national storehouse of data on the nonprofit sector.  Data is drawn from the IRS data files, Form 990s, surveys, and other government data.  Much of the data is available on-line through easy to use data reports and tools.

NCCS Form 990 Online

NCCS developed an online system for filing IRS Form 990s and state charity forms in 2004, known as NCCS Form 990 Online. E-filing benefits nonprofits, regulators, researchers, and donors. The error rate on Form 990 filed with the IRS has dropped to less than 1 percent on returns that are e-filed; the rate for non e-filed returns is closer to 30 percent.  In addition, NCCS developed the e-postcard system for the IRS which helps track small nonprofits that aren't required to file a Form 990.

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