Nonprofit Nation: A New Look at the Third America
by Michael O’Neill
This book does a great job of answering basic questions about nonprofits and the nonprofit sector. It also analyzes each segment of the nonprofit sector and brings out some key data and observations about each one. Finally, it seeks to look into the future of nonprofits. Anyone interested in the sector, and especially nonprofit executive directors, consultants, and others who should be involved in global nonprofit strategy will find this book to be a valuable resource.
The first striking lesson I learned from Dr. O’Neill’s book is that, while the nonprofit sector has been growing significantly in the past 30 years, in many ways it has just kept pace with the rest of the economy. Personal, corporate, and foundation giving are remarkably stable, and the percentage of charity dollars given by donors to segments such as education, health care, the arts, and international causes have remained constant since the 1970s. Even the growth in the number of new nonprofits seeking IRS recognition has been relatively constant (in percentage terms) since at least the early 1980s.
The dollar totals change, but the percentages are constant. Knowing this prompts important questions about how charities plan, how and whether they solicit for funds, and where likely support is to be found for new initiatives.
Dr. O’Neill doesn’t shrink from acknowledging the vast amount we don’t know about the nonprofit sector. Anyone analyzing the data recognize that policymakers and researchers alike are making best guesses rather than reaching definite conclusions in many areas of analysis. We’re a long way from having “census” data on the nonprofit sector.
There are more than 1 million charities recognized by the IRS, but we don’t know for sure how many are active and how many are defunct. There are almost 2 million nonprofits of all types (charities plus churches, labor unions, chambers of commerce, private clubs, etc.) that the IRS lists. The IRS Form 990 returns are works of interpretation by filers as well as researchers.
In fact, much nonprofit activity occurs outside record-keeping capabilities. Giving a friend’s child the money to attend college, organizing a softball team, or countless other activities never reach the level of IRS recognition, much less scrutiny. In addition, there are an estimated 350,000 or more religious congregations that are treated as charities but which are not required to file with the IRS due to their religious nature. We can study what we know, and guess about the rest based on other data sources.
Dr. O’Neill has done an admirable job of interpreting these other sources, adding the IRS and other government data, and presenting a plausible picture of the nonprofit economy.
Table of Contents
1. Nonprofit Nation
4. Social Service
5. Health Care
6. Education and Research
8. Arts and Culture
11. Mutual Benefit