The Nonprofit Phenomenon:
Internet Resources for Nonprofit Organizations
by Hazel Cameron
Librarian, College of Business and Economics
Wilson Libraries, Western Washington University
organizations (NPOs) play an increasingly important
role in U.S. society. NPOs currently number over 1
million and employ close to 11 million people, or about
7 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. This number
does not include the additional 5.7 million people
who volunteer at nonprofit organizations1.
The sharp increase in the numbers of nonprofit organizations
has led in turn to their increased visibility in society.
Between 1987 and 1998, the number of nonprofits increased
at an annual rate of 5.1 percent, more than double
the rate for the business sector2.
Nonprofits are also contributing more to the economic
growth of the U.S. Between 1977 and 1997, the revenues
of nonprofits increased by 144 percent (after adjusting
for inflation). This amounts to nearly twice the 81
percent growth rate of the nation as a whole3.
In other words, NPOs now exercise enormous spending
power and have become a far greater force in the economy,
offering more jobs than ever before and having more
money to spend. Businesses now target NPOs as potential
So, more and more people want information about nonprofit
organizations. This guide will help provide some background
information on nonprofits, focusing especially on charities.
It will also examine the sources of information available
free of charge on the Internet. It will focus on high-quality
sites that provide current general or specific information
about nonprofits in the U.S. or links to this type
of resource, rather than concentrating on sites with
general management information suitable for nonprofits
or those focused solely on fundraising, philanthropy,
or grants. This study emphasizes frequently updated
portals or gateways providing a wide array of evaluated
and abstracted resources viewable in full text, rather
than those simply listing resources.
Who Are the Nonprofits?
There are many terms used to describe nonprofit organizations independent,
third sector, voluntary, charitable, philanthropic,
social, public benefit, or tax exempt sector4.
Outside the U.S., nonprofits are often dubbed nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) or civil society organizations5.
Nonprofits are neither government nor business organizations,
but privately held organizations governed by a voluntary
board of directors. Nonprofits come in various shapes
and sizes, but are concentrated primarily in health,
education, and social services. All nonprofits work
toward some cause that will benefit the public.
To gauge the scope of nonprofits, consult the variety
of directories that list nonprofit organizations on
the Internet. The largest of these is Guidestar [http://www.guidestar.org],
which provides a database of over 850,000 U.S. nonprofit,
IRS-recognized organizations. Listings include address,
contact information, description, mission, and financial
information that often appears in graphical format.
Information from Guidestar's database comes from the
Form 990 submitted to the Internal Revenue Service,
supplemented in some cases by information provided
by the listed organizations themselves. All nonreligious
nonprofits with revenues greater than or equal to $25,000
must file Form 990's with the IRS, which amounts to
less than half of nonprofits6. Nevertheless,
it is an excellent source for larger nonprofits.
America's Charities [http://www.charities.org],
on the other hand, is a searchable directory of its
charity members. Not as large nor as comprehensive
as Guidestar, this database is more useful in finding
smaller charities because some of its members make
less than $25,000 year. This directory allows the user
to search for a nonprofit by keyword. Information retrieved
includes the contact numbers, addresses, and company
profiles, as well as missions or descriptions of what
they do. No financial information is given, however.
The NonProfit Times 100 Biggest Nonprofits [http://www.nptimes.com/] directory can also prove helpful. This income ranking
of the top 100 nonprofits comes in PDF format. It breaks
down the total income received by nonprofits into income
sources and lists figures for each component. It also
analyzes trends within the nonprofit industry during
the previous year by examining growth, layoffs, risks,
use of special events as fundraisers, and a variety
of other issues.
Growth of Nonprofit Organizations
Looking at the various directories shows the wide
variety of roles nonprofits play in society. Most provide
public services; others play an advocacy role, voicing
social, political, environmental, and community concerns;
still others play an expressive role, supporting artistic,
religious, cultural, ethnic, social, and recreational
activities. Some are involved in community building
by establishing connections among individuals, while
others act as "value guardians," nurturing crucial
Changing social and demographic shifts have created
new demands for these activities, especially the role
of service provider. Such demographic factors include
a doubling of the elderly population, increased labor
participation by women, a rapid increase in the divorce
rate, more out-of-wedlock births, an increase in refugees,
and greater diversity within U.S. culture7.
The government is often expected to fulfill these new
and growing social service roles. As Weisbrod states,
government in homogeneous societies can provide a single
service that will satisfy most people, but increasing
diversity requires different services to the
point in which the government must provide many different
services to satisfy all8. Unfortunately,
governments now operate within economic restraint programs,
forcing them to downsize and cut back on many social
programs. Ironically, at the same time, demands for
these programs have grown.
Governments have turned to the nonprofits for help
tapping into their experience at offering social services
and more effective and efficient operations. Consequently,
governments have contracted out many social services
to reduce government costs. Nonprofits, therefore,
grew in size and number to meet the increasingly diverse
needs of the public. Currently between 29,000 and 30,000
new nonprofits are created annually in the U.S.9 In
other cases, governments have formed joint ventures
or partnerships with nonprofits to operate services
The formation of joint ventures or partnerships between
nonprofits and corporations has also risen. These partnerships
have ensured a steady flow of income to the nonprofits
and bolstered their existence. On the corporate level,
the increase in partnerships stems from the downsizing
or reduced revenues of the corporations that have traditionally
supported nonprofits. More and more corporations have
begun forming strategic alliances with nonprofits to
sell corporate products. These partnerships benefit
both the corporation and the nonprofit, leading to
the rapid growth of "cause marketing."
The last few years have also seen a rise in three-sector
partnerships formed between a nonprofit, a corporation,
and a government agency. One of the better sites providing
information on partnerships with nonprofits is Strategic
Alliance Project Studies
[http://www.cwru.edu/mandelcenter/], sponsored by The
Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations, located
at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Begun
in 1997, the Strategic
Alliance project was started to study such alliances in the nonprofit sector.
Two full-text studies are available for free download, and hopefully more will
Another important Web site, the Three Sector Initiative,
is sponsored by Independentsector.org
This initiative is a partnership of seven organizations
representing business, nonprofit, and government sectors.
Their studies examine the roles, relationships, and interaction among the three
sectors. The final cumulation of this research is currently available through
two different publications: Working Better Together: How Government, Business,
and Nonprofit Organizations Can Achieve Public Purposes Through Cross-Sector
Collaboration, Alliances, and Partnerships and Changing Roles, Changing
Relationships: The New Challenge for Business, Nonprofit Organizations, and
Government. The executive summary of the first and the entire report of
the second are available for free download. This Web site also provides several
links to related resources on corporate nonprofit partnerships.
The rise and scope of alliances and partnerships
has resulted in a stronger professionalism within nonprofit
organizations. With steadier income flows, many nonprofits
have begun to recruit managers with MBAs and other
professional degrees, and many foundations have begun
to provide grants enabling nonprofits to improve management
structures through "capacity building programs."10 As
a result, nonprofits have begun to operate more efficiently
and to become more strategic in their fundraising ventures.
As Dennis Young describes, "[C]haritable fundraising
became a high art, the number of professional fundraisers
increased significantly...."11 This, in
turn, brought in more revenue that could be spent to
improve their ability to operate.
Nonprofits have also experienced an increase in donors,
stemming in part from new tax proposals that reward
giving. As well, the Depression generation, which has
tended to hoard vast sums of money, is gradually dying
off and leaving this money to a younger generation
more likely to give to nonprofits12.
Classification of Nonprofits
There are literally thousands of incredibly diverse
companies within the growing nonprofit sector. Many
efforts have been made to classify similar companies
by purpose, type, or function in order to study and
compare them better. The key classification used today
is the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE),
described in the NTEE CC Manual [http://nccs.urban.org/ntee-cc/index.htm].
In the 1980s, Russy D. Sumariwalla developed this classification
system in collaboration with major nonprofit agencies.
It divided nonprofits into 26 field areas, each designated
by a letter of the alphabet. Each field was further
subdivided according to specific activity and each
activity given a numerical code. Then each of these
was further subdivided into specific types of organization
with alphanumeric codes. In 1999, the NTEE coding system
began to evolve and merge into a new set of codes called
the Core Codes. This simplified version of the NTEE
aligns better with the new North American Industry
Classification System (NAICS) codes that are used to
classify products. Guidestar, as well as several other
online directories, uses this coding system.
What Is a Nonprofit to the IRS?
Because of the important role nonprofits play for
the public, NPOs have been granted tax-exempt status
by Congress. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers
the supervision of the tax status of these organizations,
defining them in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC),
Section 501 [http://www.fourmilab.ch/ustax/www/t26-A-1-F-I-501.html].
Section 501(c)(3) distinguishes 26 separate sections
under which organizations can claim exemptions from
federal income tax through charity or foundation status.
Section 501(c)(4) covers Social Welfare Organizations
and Section 501(c)(6) covers business league (or professional
and trade organizations) exemptions from taxing. Most
donations made to charitable organizations are considered
tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) and can be tax-deductible
for the donor within any limits imposed on the amount.
Donations made to nonprofits classed in the other two
sections are usually not considered tax-deductible.
The IRS also establishes and administers the regulations
that a nonprofit must follow. First of all, if an NPO
earns more than $5,000 in annual gross receipts, it
must register with the IRS; if earning $25,000 or more,
the NPO must fill in an annual 990 form, in effect,
an annual report with financial information. On the
Web site How to Read the IRS Form 990 [http://www.npccny.org/Form_990/990.htm],
Peter Swords gives background and insight into the
importance of the 990 form. The Guidestar database
also provides access to some of this information.
Besides completing a 990 form, nonprofits must also
follow certain rules. The IRS restricts nonprofits
from participating in other political activities and
limits the amount of money that can be spent to influence
legislation. Under IRS guidelines, lobbying must be
an "insubstantial" part of the organization's activity.
A wide variety of Internet sources discuss the role
of lobbying for nonprofits. Nonprofit Lobbying Regulations
that although Section 501(c)(s) outlines the "insubstantial
rule" (while unfortunately not defining 'insubstantial"),
nonprofits can elect to file under a provision specified
under Section 501(h), a rule enacted in 1976 and finalized
in 1990. This allows nonprofits to register an IRS
Form 5768 for an expenditure test, which permits the
nonprofit to spend a percentage of its total budget
on lobbying. Any expenditure over these amounts is
subject to a special excise tax. Nonprofits may not
use federal funds or government grants for lobbying,
only private or general funds.
Begun in 1979 as an advocacy group, the Alliance
for Justice (AFJ) [http://www.allianceforjustice.org/nonprofit/index.html] has established the Nonprofit Advocacy Project to
monitor and provide legal training and education to nonprofits on regulations
that impact their participation in policy practices. This site contains a wealth
of information on the interpretation of laws for advocacy and lobbying by the
nonprofit sector. The most important of its several sections are the "Research
and Publications" and "Public Policy" sections. The "Research and Publications" section
allows for free downloads of publications in PDF format that cover topics on
lobbying and advocacy. It includes a number of very interesting publications
covering the use of the Internet for advocacy. The "Public Policy" section
discusses a number of issues that impact nonprofit advocacy, including changes
in laws and regulations such as the impact of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform
Act (BCRA), as well as changes in legislation that might allow nonprofits a
small amount of political activity by opposing or supporting a political candidate.
Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest [http://www.clpi.org/] is an organization founded in 1998 as a "voice for
nonprofits' lobbying role." Its Web site provides extensive
information on charity lobbying and contains the full
text of Non Profit Lobbying Guide, written by
Bob Smucker. It also provides links to various laws
governing lobbying and advocacy, including a link to OMB
Watch [http://www.ombwatch.org], a newsletter that
monitors legislation and regulations on nonprofit policy,
technology, and advocacy from the Office of Management
and Budget. Each link is annotated with a description
that ranges from one to three sentences. Unfortunately,
the URL is not written out, so use of the site is suited
mostly to immediate online users.
The IRS also regulates nonprofits in their distribution
of profits. Unlike other corporations, nonprofits cannot
distribute profits or dividends to investors, shareholders,
or owners, but must use profits for their specific
mission or public purpose. If the nonprofit organization
dissolves, it must distribute its remaining assets
to another nonprofit group. Many Web sites explore
the various laws and regulations imposed on nonprofits
(including tax forms) and how they can operate legally. "What
Is a Nonprofit Organization Anyways?"
a brief but thorough tri-part article from the Thompson
and Thompson legal firm, is written for the layperson.
Part 1 outlines the various legal forms of a nonprofit
organization. Part 2 explores what it means to be nonprofit,
and Part 3 looks at tax-exempt status. Interestingly,
although entitled to tax-exempt status, nonprofits
are not required to take advantage of this status.
Naturally, most choose to do so, and the law firm outlines
the advantages of such a status.
FirstGov for NonProfits [http://www.nonprofit.gov/] is a portal that reaches a wide range of government
information and services affecting nonprofits. Linked
to all cabinet departments and many other government
agencies, it contains information about grants, licensing,
regulations, taxes, and other services. Included are
links to the IRS regulations, mail regulation, accounting
regulations, state filings, and incorporation requirements.
Sites are divided into topics, but unfortunately, the
site listings carry only the hyperlinks without annotations,
limiting the usefulness of the site. For this reason,
the best way to access the site is through the search
function. The advanced search allows users to specify
if the keyword appears in the text, the title, or the
URL. The search engine also allows users to search
for word variants, eliminating the need to research
truncation symbols. Users can specify federal documents
or states (from a drop-down menu) and can limit the
search to recent sites. Because of the sheer size of
this database and its construction, it is best used
for a very specific inquiry rather than for a general
Despite regulations, nonprofits are favored not only
by tax breaks, but also through separate or special
treatment from the federal government regarding unemployment
insurance, labor rules (especially those related to
minimum wages), liability for debts, securities regulation,
bankruptcy, and antitrust restrictions. They also enjoy
a host of local laws and regulations regarding inspections,
franchises, and so forth13. This reduces
the operating costs for nonprofits. This fact has created
criticism of favored government treatment by the for-profit
sector. In recent years, this criticism has become
more prevalent in the press because, surprisingly,
most nonprofits make money. Many generate this revenue
by charging for services, producing and selling goods,
government funding, grants, or private contributions.
Today, the largest source of nonprofit income has become
sales revenues, "easily outdistancing charitable contributions."14 This
fact has brought nonprofits under increasing scrutiny
by many who are concerned with their regulation and
Historically, nonprofits have not been subjected
to as much public scrutiny as for-profit institutions,
without the same level of regulation. As the United
Way states, "To a great extent, U.S. nonprofit organizations
are answerable to no one but their board of directors."15 Until
recently, few nonprofits have performed audits on their
financial and other records. An audit determines the
accuracy and completeness of information presented
in an organization's financial statements. With the
advent of Enron and other corporate scandals, nonprofits
have become warier of public scrutiny and more accountable
in other ways as well, primarily by improving corporate
governance and developing standards.
A number of excellent Internet sites describe ways
that nonprofits have improved accountability. One of
the better sites comes from the Independent Sector [http://www.independentsector.org],
a group of more than 1 million nonprofit organizations.
Its Web site is a portal of nonprofit information and
offers an outstanding summary of the many ways nonprofits
can become more accountable. These include educational
efforts to boards to improve governance, increased
attention to educating the public, the implementation
and development of accreditation, certification, and
other standards, the improvement of information reporting
(especially financial information), and self-assessment
techniques. Two main sections of interest within this
site specifically address accountability concerns,
one of them the section on "Accountability" found under
the "Issues" tab [http://www.independentsector.org/
This section outlines the independent sector involvement
in the accountability issue and links to a wide number
of their resources. One of these, the Code of Ethics
Review, is restricted to members, but the rest
are free. It links to standards, codes, and principles
developed by other nonprofit agencies, to regulations
and sanctions enforcing accountability, and to a survey
of legislative and regulatory activity. It also links
to "other resources" that provide access to Web sites
on ethics, bibliographies on accountability and ethics,
self-assessment tools, ethics training, and educational
Another key within this Web site is "Accountability
and Oversight," found under the "Public Policy" tab
This includes information on charitable solicitation
regulations such as the anti-spam, "do-not-call rules," IRS
rules, tax guidelines, proposed regulations, information
on the Electronic Data Initiative for Nonprofits (EDIN)
for electronic filing of Forms 990, disclosure issues,
and other regulations that affect nonprofits.
A variety of watchdog groups have also emerged promoting
accountability of nonprofits, such as the BBB Wise
Giving Alliance [http://www.give.org/].The BBB
Wise Giving Alliance reports on how hundreds of nonprofit
organizations meet their Charity Accountability standards.
Charities surveyed operate at the national rather than
the regional level. Unfortunately, the charities listed
are only accessible alphabetically, with no search
engine to help users search for charities by type,
state, or keyword. Listings carry contact numbers,
addresses, and Web sites. Measures surveyed include
a review of governance, fundraising practices, a summary
of financial activities, the truthfulness of representations
to the public, and public disclosure of information
about the charity and its financial affairs. Information
is well organized and presented in a format standardized
throughout the site that makes it obvious in each entry
whether or not the charity meets the standards. Financial
information appears in a graphical format, making it
easy for users to see how money was spent.
Give.org provides a link to the Better Business
Bureau Information system [http://search.bbb.org/] for researchers interested in regional charities in
both the U.S. and Canada. These charities are usually
smaller than those found on Give.org, but can be accessed
much more readily, however, because the Better Business
Bureau Information system has a far more robust search
engine, one that can access the BBB Reliability Report
by name, state (or province), phone number, or Web
page. An advanced search allows users to specify business
category and ZIP code. The result screen links to records
drawn from a wide variety of Better Business Bureaus.
Member records are noted with a symbol. Information
about each company includes addresses, Web sites, contact
numbers, date of start up, length of time in business,
length of time as a Better Business Bureau member (if
relevant), number of complaints to the Better Business
Bureau, and the nature of those complaints.
Regrettably, records are not standardized across
all bureaus, and some have far more information than
others. The entry under "Welder Services Inc.," for
example, comes from the Better Business Bureau of Northeastern
Indiana, Inc. It is simply listed under the classification "Welding
Services." The "Welding Craftsmen Company" entry comes
from the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Massachusetts,
Maine, & Vermont. It does not have a section on
classification, but does have a section entitled "Nature
of Business." The description here is very detailed
and includes an elaborate description of the type of
work performed by the company, date of establishment,
number of employees, and contact names. This inconsistency
makes it more difficult to locate information from
one charity entry to the next.
Charity Navigator [http://www.charitynavigator.org/],
on the other hand, evaluates and provides ratings on
over 2,500 of the largest charities in the U.S. These
nonprofits can be searched by keyword, categories,
or region, as well as from an alphabetical list. The
advanced search allows the user to use keyword, region,
city, state, category, cause, and ZIP code on a common
search screen. Unfortunately, Charity Navigator does
not use the NTEE classification system, but devises
its own scheme of nine categories and 29 causes (a
subdivision of category). Key information for each
entry includes contact and address information, a brief
description of the nonprofit, compensation for the
CEO, income statements, and a chart of revenue and
expense trends for the past 4 years. It also lists
key competitors or peers in the same categories or "causes." Each
charity is also rated in terms of seven different factors
that indicate "financial health." Rating factors include
measures of organization efficiency and organizational
capacity. Organizational efficiency includes four different
factors: fundraising efficiency (how much is spent
per dollar raised), fundraising expense (how much is
spent on fundraising in comparison to overall spending),
program expense (how much is spent on programs and
services), and administration expense (how much is
spent on administrative overhead). Organizational capacity
includes three factors that examine how well it has
maintained services and programs over its lifetime.
These include primary revenue growth, program expense
growth, and working capital ratio (the stockpile or
reserve of readily available cash or liquid assets
available to support programs if there is no new influx
of revenue). Each factor receives a score. All seven
factors are then examined collectively, and the nonprofit
is given a ranking of zero to four stars. For each
entry, Charity Navigator also provides the score and
ratings of key competitors so researchers can easily
compare the efficiency of each organization. The site
also carries a separate list of "four-star" nonprofits.
Research on Nonprofits
Until recently, information about the nonprofit sector
has been sparse and hard to gather, because most of
the institutions are small, not publicly traded, and,
if earning less than $5,000, do not have to register
with the IRS16. Religious congregations
or churches might earn more than $5,000, but still
do not have to register or file with the IRS, providing
even less public information to researchers. Many nonprofits
have extremely small budgets with limited funding for
research. In recent years, however, larger research
institutions have launched major studies gathering
information on nonprofits. In addition, many universities
now offer programs focused on the nonprofit sector.
Many of these university programs have strong research
components. As The Independent Sector states, "In the
United States alone, research on the third sector is
now conducted by over a hundred academic centers, scores
of nonprofit organizations and think tanks of various
political persuasions, and dozens of foundations."17 Hyperlinked
lists of various academic centers can be found on the
Independent Sectors Nonprofit Pathfinder under
While some of these links provide information only
on academic programs, others provide a wealth of information
on research at their own organizations, e.g., Harvard
University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Hauser
Center for Nonprofit Organizations [http://www.ksghauser.harvard.edu].
Established in 1997, this center represents an "attempt
to understand the role of nonprofits in American and
international society" in participation or partnerships
with government. The "publications section" of this
site lists working papers published since 2000, all
of them downloadable in full-text format. The site
also lists ongoing research and provides a large number
of links to nonprofit resources and other academic
centers. Links are divided into categories, including
nonprofit resources, nonprofit academic centers, government
resources, careers, nonprofit news, and access to a "reading
room." The "reading room" contains a catalog of books,
working papers, and other materials held by the Hauser
Center that act as a bibliography of resources on nonprofits.
It includes the complete set of 250 working papers
from the Yale Program on Nonprofit Organizations (PONPO).
Unfortunately, all entries are bibliographic with no
links to full text, though one can access the full
text of these working papers on the PONPO site [http://ponpo.som.yale.edu/].
This site provides a search engine that can access
the papers by author, title, paper number, year published,
or keyword. Most papers are available for free download.
A number of research institutes also provide academic
information on nonprofits. The Aspen Institute, for
example, has awarded $9.1 million since 1991 for nonprofit
research through its Nonprofit Sector Research Fund [http://www.nonprofitresearch.org/].
The "Projects and Findings" section of this Web site
provides "snap shots" or summaries of over 400 funded
studies, including both completed and in-progress studies.
Information can be accessed topically or via a keyword
search engine. Links are provided to researchers, many
of whom will send research studies for free, though
not in full-text format. Topics include accountability,
advocacy, collaboration, education and research, fundraising,
management, and governance models. A variety of working
papers and nonprofit news items are also available
in full text. These reports describe various trends
within the nonprofit industry.
Academic information about nonprofits can also be
found through a variety of online indexes. The Literature
of the Nonprofit Sector [http://lnps.fdncenter.org/] is a large, searchable database on the literature of
philanthropy compiled by the Foundation Center's five
libraries. The search engine provided is very sophisticated
and allows searching by author, title, subject, publisher,
journal title, type of record, year, or keyword. The
search engine supports Boolean operators. Each field
uses a controlled vocabulary. The "Word Wheel" allows
a researcher to browse specific "headings," while the "Find" box
allows a researcher to use a keyword approach. Retrieved
documents appear in alphabetical order by the author's
last name, but users can choose to have results displayed
in order of title or date, as well as with or without
abstracts. Abstracts are very lengthy and give a good
summary of research. As with other academic literature,
full-text documents are not currently available, though
that may change through an initiative underway with
the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.
Other academic papers about nonprofits can be found
in more generalized working papers collections. For
example, the Social Science Research Network [http://www.ssrn.com] indexes over 60,000 working papers, over one half of
them free to download. Users can search all the various
collections at the same time using a keyword approach.
A search for "nonprofit" returned 129 hits published
since the mid-1990s.
The existence of more nonprofits in society and the
increase in academic programs has meant the growth
of many general portals that provide organized access
to a selection of both academic and trade literature
of all types from a variety of sources and organized
access to specific formats of information on nonprofits.
Some of this information is aimed at both academics
A large number of all-inclusive nonprofit portals
provide links to a variety of information from a variety
of sources. A good starting point for any researcher
is the About.com site, Nonprofit charitable
orgs [http://nonprofit.about.com]. This Web site presents
a range of information and resources on nonprofits,
including a glossary, links to information on start-ups,
news, legal resources, job opportunities, and government
links. It addresses issues that face nonprofits, such
as how to evaluate a nonprofit, the "do-not-call" list,
tax issues, Web trends, and technology trends. Each
area is discussed in one or two paragraphs and each
link is given a brief annotation. This site is an ideal
choice as a "starting point" for research.
Charity Village [http://www.charityvillage.com/] contains news and information derived from industry
sources (trade literature). Its articles therefore
tend to be brief and cover the pulse of the industry
with statistics and trends. The Charity Village Web
site boasts more than 3,000 pages about nonprofits.
Although strongly Canadian in focus, it has a wealth
of interesting links to nonprofit news, resources,
and research materials useful to any researcher. Each
area has a drop-down menu of choices visible from the
main screen. It is very easy to use and the entire
site can be easily searched. The research section has
articles broken down into 56 areas searchable by keyword
or browsable by topic. Each topic includes a large
number of links to full-text online resources and publications.
One of the most comprehensive portals, the Independent
Sector [http://www.independentsector.org/] mentioned
earlier, provides access to a wide array of research
reports on the nonprofit sector in four key area:
issues, public policy, news, and research. Current
nonprofit research has focused on a large number
of issues readily found on the "issues tab" and includes
corporate nonprofit partnerships, leadership challenges,
changes in tax policy, accountability, and lobbying.
A plethora of full-text sites can help researchers
gain deeper understanding of these issues. The "Public
Policy" section describes new legislation and regulations,
while the "News Room" area summarizes developments
in, for example, tax legislation and new sources
of funding. The research area contains a gold mine
of information. It describes various research projects
sponsored by its organization and links to a wealth
of research information. It discusses a survey conducted
by the Independent Sector in 2001 entitled "Giving
and Volunteering in the U.S." This survey examined
the giving and volunteering activities of over 4,000
adults. The executive summary, key findings, and
some statistics are available for free download.
Another research project, the Nonprofit Almanac,
is an annual effort to survey the size and scope
of the nonprofit sector and to analyze trends. Again,
you can access the executive summary, key findings,
and some statistics at no charge. Finally, from the
Measures Project began in 1996 to measure the impact
of the third sector on society, you can view online
an annotated bibliography prepared by Clyde V. Croswell,
Jr. on the evaluation and measurement of the nonprofit
The most useful tool in this research area is the Nonprofit
Pathfinder. Updated weekly, this tool provides
access to all types of nonprofit information. The "search
tool" is ideal for topics within the site and supports
Boolean logic operators. The site is divided into
several key sections, specifically, innovations (new
technology and new approaches to solving problems),
measuring impact (outcome measurement), research
resources, and bibliographies. The research resources
section contains a wealth of information subdivided
into Academic Centers, Academic Research Associations,
Civil Society Institutes, Foundations, Internet-based
Resources, Journals and Periodicals, Nonprofit Organizations,
and Think Tanks. Each area contains links to annotated
resources and in-depth descriptions, often running
several paragraphs, that clearly outline the usefulness
of the resource to a researcher.
Another portal, the Internet Nonprofit Center [http://www.nonprofits.org/],
has a "library" of resources with information about
nonprofits. It contains bibliographies of resources
for volunteers and donors, as well as nonprofit literature.
It also contains several essays and practical guides.
The bibliography compiled by Peter Hall on nonprofit
literature provides good background, but has not been
updated since its compilation in the mid-1990s. Comprehensive
FAQs summarize discussion topics by participants and
you can search them by browsing a keyword table or
by using a Google search engine for the site. Many
of the answers are written by people in the nonprofit
industry rather than by academics, so you can find
a large amount of practical information. However, other
items might have more interest to researchers. For
example, the site links to an article on the impact
of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This Act was aimed at improving
accountability of public corporations, but it also
affects the private nonprofit sector.
The National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA)
[http://www.ncna.org] also provides a good portal of
general information. Its organization represents over
35 state and regional associations of nonprofits. Links
to key Web sites are organized by state. Most Web sites
contain links to the various newsletters and other
information published by state associations for nonprofits,
most of which is available online in full text. Unfortunately,
no search engine exists to access this information
across states or regions. The NCNA also publishes a
variety of material about nonprofits. The only free
item to nonmembers is an eight-page statistically oriented
brochure entitled "United States NonProfit Sector" [http://www.ncna.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=173].
This site also summarizes a wide range of the issues
faced by nonprofits, accessible through the "Policy
and Advocacy" tab. It also provides other information
through its "links" to Web pages arranged topically.
Unfortunately, none of these are annotated.
Some portals access certain formats of information. The
National Center for Charitable Statistics [http://nccs.urban.org],
for example, provides statistical information on
nonprofits. Founded in 1982, this center separated
from the Independent Sector and became its own entity
at the Urban Institute in 1996. The mandate of this
center is to act as a national depository for statistical
data about the nonprofit sector. It includes tax
information gathered from the IRS, statistical information
gleaned from government agencies collecting data
on nonprofits, financial information from nonprofit
agencies, and statistical information on nonprofits
from academic and scholarly communities. Most of
the data collected is available to researchers in
a variety of file formats, including SAS, SPSS, MS
Access, ASCII, and Excel. Some data goes back to
The Nonprofit Industry News Web site [http://www.headlinespot.com/subject/industry/nonprofit.htm] acts as a portal to a wide array of news sources within
the nonprofit sector, including access to a large number
of trade news publications, online news sites, and
lists of events that give the pulse of the nonprofit
industry. The scope of these publications is broad.
Relevant trade magazines include 501 C (3) Monthly
Letter, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Contributions, For
a Change, Nonprofit Genie, Nonprofit Issues, and Nonprofit
Times. Online publications include Guidestar
Charity News, Handsnet, Network for Good, and Nonprofit
Online News. One of the trade sources, the Chronicle
of Philanthropy [http://www.philanthropy.com] is
dubbed "the newspaper of the nonprofit world." The
Web version of this weekly news journal includes a
summary of their articles; some full-text, current
news stories; information on conferences, workshops,
and seminars; and links to other nonprofit-related
sites. Major stories can be browsed by topic, but past
issues are not searchable.
Obviously, there is ample information on nonprofit
organizations on the Internet. However, a careful analysis
shows that academic literature is well documented,
but often not available in full text. Working papers
(which often later become journal articles), however,
are often available in full text, as well as some research
studies. On the other hand, a wealth of trade literature
about nonprofits appears available in full text, including
online news and short articles from industry associations.
There is also a wealth of sites suited to the layperson,
including a selection of trade literature or FAQs.
While some sites, such as About.com, give superficial
information, many, such as the Nonprofit Pathfinder (from
the Independent Sector), are much more robust, accessing
good quality academic and trade sites that can provide
in-depth information on modern nonprofit organizations.
News portals are also well developed, though portals
linking to federal and state regulations and discussions
on the impact of these regulations is not as well developed.
Most sites are comprehensive and cover most major issues
facing the nonprofit sector and can give researchers
good background on current problems. Others focus only
on single topics. On the whole, however, the researcher
will be delighted to discover that nonprofit literature
is richly represented on the Internet.
1 Weitzman, Murray S., et al., The
New Nonprofit Almanac and Desk Reference: The Essential
Facts and Figures for Managers, Researchers, and
Volunteers, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002,
2 Bennett, James T. and Thomas J.
DiLorenzo, Unfair Competition: The Profits of Nonprofits,
Lanham, MD: Hamilton Press, 1989, p. 10.
3 Salamon, Lester M., The State
of Nonprofit America, Washington, DC: Brookings
Institute Press, in collaboration with the Aspen
Institute, 2002, pp. 9-11.
4 Salamon, pp. 22-23.
5 Weisbrod, Burton A., "The Future
of the Nonprofit Sector: Its Entwining with Private
Enterprise and Government" in J. Steve Ott (ed.), The
Nature of the Nonprofit Sector, Boulder, Colorado:
Westview Press, 2001, p. 399.
6 National Council
of Nonprofit Associations, The
United States Nonprofit Sector, 2001. Retrieved
November 16, 2003, from
7 Salamon, pp. 22-23.
8 Weisbrod, p. 399.
9 "Toward Accountability," The
Sophist, November 2001. Retrieved November 10,
2003, from http://www.isophinstitute.com/
10 Foundation Center, Capacity
Building for Nonprofit: A Resource List. Retrieved
November 3, 2001, from http://fdncenter.org/learn/topical/capacity.html.
11 Young, Dennis R. (1996). "Accountability,
the Key to Keeping the Nonprofit Sector on Course," Canadian
FundRaiser, 1996. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from
12 Stanford Graduate School of Business,
Public Management Initiative. Retrieved October 10,
2003, from http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/
13 Bennett and DiLorenzo, p. 10.
14 Young. Retrieved November 11,
15 United Way, Holding Nonprofits
to a Higher Standard, 2003. Retrieved November
11, 2003, from http://www.cfauw.org/standards.htm.
16 Weitzman, et al., p. 125.
17 Nonprofit Pathfinder, Retrieved
November 20, 2003, from http://www.independentsector.org/pathfinder/about.html.