Partnering to Understand Long-Term Trends in Nonprofit Organization Activities and Needs

Researchers at the Urban Institute, American University, and George Mason University have been working collaboratively with support from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and other scholars and institutions in the field of nonprofit research since 2015 to improve how we study nonprofit organizations. This collaboration was motivated by the piecemeal nature of most research on nonprofit organizations, which could not be aggregated to understand the important contributions and needs of nonprofit organizations both across the United States and within communities. The collaboration is working to improve research on the sector, share what is learned with the nonprofit and research communities, and help policymakers and the public make informed decisions that affect or support nonprofit organizations.

The researchers are as follows:

Current projects in the collaboration include the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts and the Nonprofit Organization Research Panel Project (NORPP) Manager

Project 1: National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts

Nora Hakizimana and Laura Tomasko at the Urban Institute have joined the above researchers to launch the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts. By collecting data from a nationally representative sample of nonprofit organizations, the survey will help people better understand how changes in giving and volunteering have affected nonprofit organizations and the people and communities they serve. The survey will capture trends affecting nonprofit organizations across the sector in different fields and locations and of different sizes and how these trends affect rural and urban nonprofits, those providing direct services and advocacy, and those headed by and serving communities of color. The findings from this survey and a deidentified, publicly accessible dataset will allow others, including nonprofits participating in the survey, to learn more about trends affecting the sector and how organizations can respond to those trends. The survey, a final report, and a publicly available dataset have been funded by the Generosity Commission, a nonpartisan group working to reimagine and reignite generosity in America, in part by exploring key questions that will shape the future of giving, volunteering, and civic engagement.

The nonprofits participating in the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts will also be invited to participate in the Nonprofit Organization Research Panel Project, described below. If you have questions about study participation, please contact the research team at NPSurvey@urban.org.

Information for Nonprofits Invited to Participate in the Survey

If your organization has been invited to participate in the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts, please read the below information.

COMMITMENT: By asking you to participate in the survey, we hope you will commit to helping us understand your organization’s story and how it has changed over time. The survey will take about 30 minutes. Once or twice per year, we may also invite you to participate in short, web-based surveys to capture changes over time and continue learning about the important work your organization does. To keep surveys brief, we may collect additional information about your organization from publicly available sources, like the Internal Revenue Service Forms 990 your organization has filed.

CONFIDENTIALITY: None of the publicly available materials produced from the survey will include the names of participants or their organizations. We will summarize information to tell nonprofits’ stories from different angles while protecting the identities of participating organizations. The information you provide will be housed in a secure database. Deidentified data (i.e., data without information that could be used to identify you or your organization) will be made available for noncommercial research through a Creative Commons license. Identifiable data files, protected in a secure database, will only be made available to researchers who can demonstrate they can maintain the same confidentiality standards.

BENEFITS: You will contribute to the most accurate portrayal of nonprofit charitable organizations to date. This information will provide you and your board with comparable data on the finances, giving trends, and actions of other nonprofits during and after the pandemic. Foundations and other funding agencies will gain timely insights into the issues affecting nonprofits on the ground and will see trends unfold as we follow up with the same nonprofits over time. As a survey participant, you will be given access to the report before it is publicly released.

RISKS: None of the information we make publicly available will include the names of participants or organizations. We do not anticipate any risks to you or your organization for participating in this study.

VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION: Your participation, and your organization’s participation, for this and follow-up studies is entirely voluntary. When you click the link to start the survey, you will find a consent form. If you do not consent to participate in the study, mark “no.” If you want to stop receiving requests from the research team, please email NPSurvey@urban.org to have your organization removed from the study list.

QUESTIONS: Contact us at NPSurvey@urban.org if you have questions or concerns about this project. You can also contact us if you think you have been harmed by the study or have concerns about your rights in this project.

Project 2: Nonprofit Organization Research Panel Project Manager

The Nonprofit Organization Research Panel Project (NORPP) Manager is funded by the National Science Foundation, which has provided grants to American University, George Mason University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Urban Institute. This project will create a publicly accessible, internet-based, and collaborative research platform that will lower the costs of collecting and sharing large amounts of high-quality, multiyear data on nonprofits and their impacts. This project uses the same confidentiality assurances for nonprofit participants as the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts, described above. The platform will strengthen research and evaluation, broaden access to data-intensive research, and lead to more scientifically informed decision-making by organizations, policymakers, and funders and improved outcomes for the communities they serve. Participants in the project will be able to benchmark their own data against those from other nonprofits over time.

For more information about the NORPP Manager, please contact Dr. Lewis Faulk at American University.