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

Researcher collaborators at the Urban Institute, American University, George Mason University, and Georgia Institute of Technology have partnered to improve data about the nonprofit sector and access to those data. 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.

Results from our first year survey:

Nonprofit Trends and Impacts 2021

Findings on US Donation Trends, 2015–2020: Nonprofit Trends and Impacts 2021

National Findings on Diversity and Representation in the Nonprofit Sector

Spring 2021 Nonprofit Trends and Impacts Public Use Data file

Researchers leading this collaboration are:

Project History

In 2015, the key collaborators at Urban Institute, American University, and George Mason University began having conversations with other scholars and institutions around the country about 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. These early conversations with more than 70 researchers from around the country were supported by American University, the Urban Institute, and in-kind contributions from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). In 2020, we received funding from the Generosity Commission, a project of the Giving Institute and Giving USA Foundation, and through the National Science Foundation Human Networks and Data Science – Infrastructure Program collaborative award numbers 2024310, 2024307, 2024320, and 2024330 to develop the panel, launch year 1 of the survey, and to begin developing the data-sharing platform. Contact us at NPSurvey@urban.org for more information.

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

The National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts is a long-term project to collect data over time from a nationally representative group of nonprofit organizations in the United States classified as 501(c)(3) operating organizations. Year 1 of the survey ran January-April 2021. The Year 2 survey will be launched in January 2022. 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. Each year of the data will be available in a public use format and a restricted use format for analysis by others. See Project 2 below for more information about the datasets. Contact us at NPSurvey@urban.org for more information.

VIDEO: For more information about the survey and project goals, please watch Why Should My Nonprofit Participate in the National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts? on Vimeo.

Year 1: Spring 2021 National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts

Year 1 of the survey includes a nationally representative sample of 2,306 nonprofit organizations. The survey had 35 questions about organizational characteristics (nonprofit subsector, size, and staff and board characteristics); their programs (who they serve and where they serve them); staff and volunteer numbers and demographics; donation and volunteer importance; fundraising and finances (including donation trends during 2015-2019 and 2020; and 2020 strategies to weather the public health, social, and economic change in that year.

The Year 1 research team included Lewis Faulk, Mirae Kim, Teresa Derrick-Mills, Elizabeth Boris, Laura Tomasko, Nora Hakizimana. Many others at the Urban Institute, American University, and George Mason University contributed to launching, running, and analyzing Year 1 of the survey. Additionally, Independent Sector was an important partner in this first round of the survey.

Current products reporting on Year 1 data may be found here (see Project 2 for information about the datasets):

Spring 2021 Nonprofit Trends and Impacts Public Use Datafile and Year 2: Spring 2022 National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts

The nonprofits participating in the Spring 2021 National Survey of Nonprofit Trends and Impacts will also be invited to participate in the Spring 2022 survey. Stay tuned for more information about that survey. If you are asked to participate in the survey, here is more information for your organization.

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. 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 public use data file. 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.

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 Human Networks and Data Science – Infrastructure Program collaborative award numbers 2024310, 2024307, 2024320, and 2024330to 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.

While we are developing this data platform, we are making the National Nonprofit Trends and Impacts survey data available through the Urban Institute’s Data Catalog.