Making a Report About the Health of Nonprofits a Roadmap

Today, Independent Sector released our quarterly update of the Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector which addresses key economic and workforce data about the sector, as of the final quarter of 2021.

Of course, reports like this come and go. Your desk and mine are likely stacked with data and analysis products with important insights into the day-to-day realities of the nonprofit sector. Each makes a contribution – helping nonprofit practitioners, researchers, funders, and policymakers stitch together a view of the workings of our sector.

There is, however, something beyond delivering data that we aim to accomplish with these reports. We believe the value of good data and analysis is amplified when it is accompanied by a roadmap or series of suggestions on how vital information can be used to pave the way for change. That is why, for each of the quarterly and annual reports we release, we end with a series of policy and practice changes the sector should be thinking about – and advocating for – in order to grow healthier. This is what distinguishes our IS reports – and today’s report is no exception.

Here are a few ways we are working to make these reports a roadmap for action.

On March 17, Independent Sector President and CEO Dan Cardinali testified before the Senate Committee on Finance on charitable giving and other critical trends in the nonprofit sector. For the first time, using IS testimony and data addressed in this quarterly report, we were able to suggest a framework for understanding sector health. The state of our workforce – lagging considerably behind the private sector workforce in our recovery from the pandemic – is key to that framework and was central to his testimony. The fact is that broad trends in, and the impact of disparities on, the nonprofit workforce are insufficiently understood. In fact, they are sometimes entirely overlooked, as in the case of a recent U.S. Department of Labor report on the impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce. For these reasons, we suggest academic and government researchers prioritize analyzing the degree to which broad workforce trends, with a particular focus on disparities, apply to nonprofit employees.

Research that brings deeper insight into the state of our workforce is only possible if nonprofit jobs data is released at the same time as other industries. Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector, despite our status as the third-largest private workforce, is not included in timely reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Access to this data, fully available on a regular basis to the private sector, must continue to be central to our advocacy to the Federal Government, as it now is in Independent Sector’s ongoing relationship with the Biden Administration and the Department of Labor. Until BLS produces regular reports on the nonprofit workforce, this call to advocacy has been and will remain central to our health reports and our efforts with policymakers.

A key engine of our nonprofit workforce, of course, is the unpaid volunteer force. In both our 2020 and 2021 annual Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector reports, we highlighted the lack of consistent, reliable, and current data on the state of volunteerism. Existing data have shown conflicting findings, so Independent Sector’s health reports called for regular, disaggregated data on volunteerism at the individual and institutional levels to better understand the needs of both and to identify potential disparities beneath nationally aggregated numbers.

In a great example of a “call to action” turning into actual “action,” we are excited that the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland is working this year to meet this significant data need. They are conducting two national surveys – one of funders and one of nonprofits – to determine the state of strategic volunteer engagement (SVE) in the U.S. social sector. The project will create baseline data about the gaps and disconnects in the field to inform new interventions and volunteer supports by sector leaders and policymakers.

In 2022, we will be digging into how you all are using – or not using – these reports and why. With those understandings in hand, we will work to make the product as valuable as possible to users, such as researchers, practitioners, policymakers and, perhaps most importantly in my mind, advocates.

As always, thanks for spending time with our work at Independent Sector. We are so much stronger with you than without!

Types: Blog
TAGS: Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report, Independent Sector, nonprofits
Global Topics: Data, Nonprofit Health, Public Policy, Voices for Good