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Vol. 12 No. 2 — February 2004
Feature
The Nonprofit Phenomenon:
Internet Resources for Nonprofit Organizations

by Hazel Cameron
Librarian, College of Business and Economics
Wilson Libraries, Western Washington University


Nonprofit 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 customers.

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 national values.

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 more effectively.

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 become available.

Another important Web site, the Three Sector Initiative, is sponsored by Independentsector.org
[http://www.independentsector.org/
programs/leadership/3sector_overview.html]
. 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.

Lobbying

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 [http://www.tmcenter.org/quarterly/1_lobby.html] explains 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?"
[http://www.t-tlaw.com/np-01.htm], 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 overview.

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 accountability.

Accountability

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/
issues/accountability.html]
. 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 resources.

Another key within this Web site is "Accountability and Oversight," found under the "Public Policy" tab [http://www.independentsector.org/
programs/gr/accountability_oversight.htm]
. 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 Academic Centers
[http://www.independentsector.org/
pathfinder/resources/acad_ctrs/index.html]
.

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.

Nonprofit Portals

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 and laypersons.

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 sector.

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 1982.

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.

In Summary

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.

 

Footnotes

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, p. 21.

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
http://www.ncna.org/_uploads/documents/live//us.nonprofit.sector.report.pdf.

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/
sophist_no1_accountability.aspx
.

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 http://www.charityvillage.com/cv/research/rstew2.html.

12 Stanford Graduate School of Business, Public Management Initiative. Retrieved October 10, 2003, from http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/
pmp/initiatives/pmi/pmi99-00.html
.

13 Bennett and DiLorenzo, p. 10.

14 Young. Retrieved November 11, 2003.

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.


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