Nonprofits Identify What They Need from the U.S. Government in 2021

Independent Sector is in conversations with the Biden-Harris Transition Team on behalf of the nonprofit and philanthropic community about sector needs. In discussions, the Biden-Harris team asked Independent Sector for information about the challenges nonprofits continue to face and specific ways federal policymakers can help the sector serve hundreds of millions of people in communities nationwide during this challenging time.

To ensure the best possible response, Independent Sector surveyed nonprofits about how policymakers can best help them in the next six months. Over 900 organizations completed the survey, providing confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback. We are awed by such an overwhelming response from organizations across the country. Already, insights from the survey are informing important conversations with the transition team and feeding into the work of national nonprofit advocacy coalitions.

Highlights of Findings

An initial analysis of survey responses reveals three main take-aways:

  1. Nonprofits are most concerned about operating while protecting the health and safety of staff members and community members. Sixty-five percent of respondents report they are concerned about how to safely continue operations amid the ongoing health crisis.
  2. Policymakers can help nonprofits by providing more resources for nonprofits to keep doors open, maintain staff members, and meet growing community need. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said incentivizing more charitable giving is a critical way for federal policymakers to help nonprofits.
  3. Subsectors and marginalized communities have unique needs that policymakers also need to address, particularly advancing policies that promote equity and fight racism.

Concerns About Health and Safety

Top Concerns Facing Nonprofits in 2021


Safe Operations


Growing Demand for Services


Funding to Pay Staff


Systemic Inequality


Funding to Keep Doors Open



Sixty-five percent of respondents report the safe continuation or resuming operations amid the ongoing health pandemic as a top concern. Within this category, the largest number of respondents expressed significant interest in federal government support for the timely rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and increasing the availability of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to communities they serve. Many organizations expressed concern for the mental health and well-being of staff members, which they linked directly to their capacity to continue operations. A few responses extended the scope of concern to include protecting staff and community members from violence. Finally, some respondents said their business model cannot accommodate social distancing, so they are concerned about reaching a threshold of community health safety that will enable them to reopen and resume operations.

 Concerns About Resources

Areas the Federal Government Can Help in the Next Six Months


Incentivize Giving


More Direct Relief to Individuals


Streamline Government Grants & Contracts


New Forgivable Loans


Expand Broadband Access


Cover 100% of Unemployment Insurance


More Payroll Tax Relief

Just over half of nonprofits responded that they need funding to maintain payroll and keep their doors open, but a lack of money and human resources proved to be a theme underlying the comments. It is possible the overwhelming need for resources, whether to make up for budget shortfalls or to expand operations to meet growing demand, is why three of the top four responses were about how government can focus on helping nonprofits access resources. Incentivizing charitable giving, often a critical source of flexible funds for nonprofits, ranks the highest among policies federal lawmakers can advance to help nonprofits.

Concerns of Subsectors and Marginalized Communities

Topline findings highlight concerns that span the nonprofit sector, but aggregated findings also can disguise the acute challenges of some communities. Beneath the surface of the “most popular” responses, respondents identified specific types of nonprofits and communities that require additional support. Specifically, a large proportion of respondents said policymakers need to prioritize tackling racial and economic inequality in any future COVID-19 related policies. Many respondents added that nonprofits and issues unrelated to the COVID-19 recovery still need support and attention in the next six months.

 Nonprofit Leaders: In Their Own Words

Because stories and anecdotes from nonprofit members are important to the national discussion, the survey asked individuals whether they were willing to share a quote about their work and be identified. Independent Sector plans to use these quotes in the coming weeks to better tell the story of the sector. In the meantime, here is a sample of quotes that illustrate a more complete picture of respondents’ greatest concerns for the first half of 2021.

Quotes on Nonprofit Concerns in 2021

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Arts, Culture, and Humanities, Civil Society, Congress, COVID-19 Response, Dialogue, Health and Human Services, Infrastructure, Nonprofit Health, Public Policy, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Trust
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Policy Issues: Charitable Giving, Civil Society Infrastructure, Nonprofit Operations