Four Shades of Resilience: The Center for Civil Society Studies in 2015

By on December 21, 2015

Perhaps no quality captures more effectively the distinctive character of nonprofit institutions and related voluntary citizen behavior that is the focus of our Center’s attention than the quality of resilience—the ability to withstand significant shifts in fortunes and challenges and find ways to persist in the pursuit of their missions.
This past year has certainly demonstrated this quality of the nonprofit and citizen sector over and over, from the sector’s role in responding to the refugee crisis triggered by the violence in Syria and Afghanistan, and the popular movements displaying solidarity in the face of terrorist attacks in places like Paris, California, and Beirut, or standing up for black lives in America’s inner cities; to the day-to-day struggles to improve the lives and prospects for people the world over.
For our part, we have attempted this past year, as in years past, to reflect this special quality of the sector we study in our own work, first by calling attention to it, and second by modeling it ourselves. This attempt is apparent in four facets of our work in particular over the past year.

Most obviously, resilience is once again the theme of the second edition of Center Director Lester Salamon’s Resilient Sector monograph published by Brookings Institution Press, which documents the striking resilience of the American nonprofit sector. But this time the emphasis on resilience comes with a twist. In The Resilient Sector Revisited: The New Challenge to Nonprofit America, Salamon argues that “A battle is on for the soul of America’s nonprofit sector” as the sector finds itself caught in a force field, buffeted by four powerful—but at least partly competing—impulses representing, respectively, the pressures of voluntarism, professionalism, civic activism, and commercialism. The sector’s organizations have responded resiliently to this combination of pressures, but in the end the commercial impulse seems to have gained the upper hand, with results that may be doing wonders for the sector’s survival, but may also be putting its distinctiveness at considerable risk. To offset this, Salamon recommends a “renewal strategy” that begins with a revitalization of the sector’s “value proposition,” and the set of key values that underlie it.
One of the clearest manifestations of the resilience of the U.S. nonprofit sector, as of its counterparts around the world, is its striking record of employment growth, which continued right through the recent recession and persists today. To help nonprofit leaders, policy-makers, and other stakeholders track the sector’s employment record and tell the sector’s story, the past year also saw the launch of the Beta version of the Center’s new, nonprofit employment interactive website, Nonprofit Works. Through this site, the extraordinary body of nonprofit employment data generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages will be available to every nonprofit executive, state nonprofit association leader, legislator, county executive, mayor, and city councilman in the nation at the click of a mouse, with the ability to fashion charts, graphs, pie charts and other graphic representations and make comparisons at the county, state, and national level overall and by field of nonprofit activity. Communications Associate Chelsea Newhouse has been diligently working with a web design firm to complete the second phase of this new tool, which we are confident will boost the visibility of the nonprofit sector and provide useful benchmarking information for all manner of nonprofit sector stakeholders.

A fundamental key to the resilience of the nonprofit sector is the sector’s ability to resource itself, to generate the financial and human resources it needs to carry out its work. Several components of our Center’s work over the past year have contributed to this facet of resilience.

  • Building Permanent Assets for Social Purpose Support
    2015 marked a decisive shift in our Philanthropication thru Privatization (or PtP) Project from an initial discovery and case-building phase to a dissemination and implementation phase. The goal of this project is to build permanent charitable endowments in countries throughout the world by tapping into the proceeds of transactions involving various types of government-owned or controlled assets (e.g., state-owned companies, debt swaps, the proceeds of lotteries, royalties from mineral extraction, stolen assets, or penalties resulting from inappropriate business practices). Working with colleagues around the world, we have identified over 550 foundations that have resulted from such transactions. With this evidence in hand, during the past year we began assembling a funding coalition to advance the PtP concept; formed an African PtP Exploratory Committee; organized a Study Tour to European PtP foundations to solidify support for the PtP concept among a group of key Kyrgyzstan government and civil society leaders; introduced the PtP concept to World Bank leaders; launched a case study on a PtP foundation formed from the recovery of a penalty levied on a corporation the engaged in bribing a government official; established contact with the International Council of Mining and Minerals; and started work on a possible South African PtP pilot.
  • Expanding the Revolution in Social-Purpose Finance
    As a follow-up to the 2014 publication by Oxford University Press of his New Frontiers of Philanthropy and Leverage for Good books, which call attention to the emerging revolution in social-purpose finance under way around the world, Center Director Lester Salamon has had opportunities to bring the message of this book to a number of important audiences over the past year. Included were: a Russian Ministry of Economic Affairs Conference on Government-Nonprofit Relations; Jacques Attila’s Positive Economy Forum in San Patrignano, Italy; a Canadian Ministry of Employment and Social Development Workshop; the Fifth Annual King Fahd University conference on Government and the Nonprofit Sector in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; and, perhaps most significantly, the EU Presidency Conference on Social Economy in Luxembourg this past December. Salamon was particularly pleased by the reaction that the chairman of the EU Parliament’s Social Economy Interest Group had to this latter presentation. “We knew the reality you described was out there,” this EU Parliamentarian noted, “but for the first time you have made it possible for us to really see it.
  • Volunteers: A Renewable Resource for Social and Environmental Problem-Solving
    Following up on the 2011 release by the International Labour Organization of a Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work produced by our Center, International Projects Manager Megan Haddock and Center Director Lester Salamon had opportunities to make a number of key policy audiences aware of the enormous “renewable resource for social problem-solving” represented by volunteer work and to encourage the promotion of such work. Hence, Salamon took part in a special side event on the measurement of volunteer work at the 46th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission, and Haddock was privileged to take part in a series of consultations promoting attention to volunteering in the SDG process and to make a presentation on the importance of volunteer work to the High Level Political Forum, the UN body responsible for managing the development and implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.


As important as financial and human resources to the sustainability and resilience of the nonprofit sector are the reputational resources generated by visibility and transparency. Improving the visibility and credibility of the nonprofit sector has long been a special focus of our Center at Johns Hopkins, and 2015 brought a number of major steps forward in this area as well. Milestone achievements here included the following:

  • Revision of the United Nations’ Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts
    This Handbook, issued by the United Nations in 2003, provides guidance to national statistical authorities in creating special “satellite accounts” designed to bring the nonprofit sector into explicit view in official national statistics for the first time. Because the underlying “system of national accounts” (SNA) to which this Handbook is connected underwent a major revision in 2008, it was necessary to bring our UN NPI Handbook in line with the revised version, especially since this revision of the SNA included a variety of steps that are likely to facilitate the implementation of the NPI Handbook. The revised version is now under final review by the UN Statistics Division and will be circulated for review to national statistical agencies and ultimately to the UN Statistical Commission at its spring 2016 session.
  • Continued Expansion of the Countries Implementing the UN NPI Handbook
    Cameroon became the third African country to produce an NPI satellite account as recommended by the UN NPI Handbook; and it was joined as well by Norway, which covered nonprofit funding data for the first time in a updated account. Altogether, 20 countries have now completed such accounts, vastly expanding the visibility of their nonprofit sectors. And several other countries, including Germany and Italy, have such work under way.
  • Preparation of a Working Paper on “NPIs and the SDGs”
    With global attention focused on the UN System’s development of a set of Sustainable Development Goals to guide the world’s development agenda through 2030, it seemed important to call attention to the critical role that civil society organizations will have to play if these ambitious goals are to be realized. To highlight this, Center Director Salamon and International Projects Manager Haddock prepared a Working Paper, “SDGs and NPIs: Private Nonprofit Institutions – The Footsoldiers for the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” to document the critical role that nonprofit institutions and volunteers play in each of the fields targeted for improvement under the SDGs, and outlined a set of four crucial steps that will be needed if civil society organizations are to play the role required of them to achieve these goals.
  • Special Edition of the Journal Voluntas on International Experience with Government-Nonprofit Cooperation
    In his role as Scientific Director of an International Laboratory on Nonprofit Sector Studies at Russia’s Higher School of Economics, Center Director Lester Salamon further added to the visibility of the third sector by pulling together a special issue of the journal Voluntas on evolving government-nonprofit relations in Russia, China, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as several Western European countries. Underlying this special issue is the question of whether the “nonprofitization” of the welfare state, so evident in Western Europe and even parts of Central Europe, has a reasonable prospect in Russia, China, and Central Asia, where the resilience of the nonprofit sector has long been under threat.
  • A Major New Book on the Global Nonprofit Sector
    Building on the substantial base of data it has assembled on the civil society sector around the world, Center researchers Lester Salamon, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, and Megan Haddock completed the drafting of what is likely to be the capstone book on the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project. Scheduled for publication by Johns Hopkins University Press next year, Social Origins of Civil Society will address the critical question of what explains the substantial variations in the size, composition, and role of the civil society sector in countries throughout the world. After first establishing the existence of considerable variation, the book tests the ability of three lines of explanation—the widely used “sentiments” and “preferences” theories found in much of the previous literature on the civil society sector, and the “social origins theory” that has been associated with the Center’s work—to account for these variations. Finding far more considerable support for the social origins theory in the data, the book then applies this theory to ten individual countries.


If resilience consists of adjusting to new realities and new possibilities, then our activities this past year involved not only documenting and contributing to the resilience of the nonprofit sector, but also exhibiting a bit of it ourselves. This opportunity arose from our involvement through the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Bologna Center, along with ten other partner institutions, in a European Union project to measure the scale and impact of the European “third sector.” Our initial task in this consortium was to formulate a consensus conceptualization of the “third sector” that could serve as the foundation for this Project’s work.
This responsibility gave us the opportunity to re-visit the definition of the “nonprofit sector” that we developed within the framework of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project and that we have since managed to incorporate into the official international statistical system. That definition was forged in a different era, when the whole idea of a distinct nonprofit “sector” was still heavily contested, this set of institutions was largely invisible in official statistics, and virtually no account was being taken of the vast array of volunteer work that nonprofit organizations were mobilizing. We therefore made the strategic decision, in cooperation with our international team of Local Associates, to accept for our initial foray into putting the third sector onto the statistical map of the world the definition of a “nonprofit institution,” or NPI, already incorporated into the official System of National Accounts. That definition included only entities that were forbidden to distribute any profits they might generate to their directors, investors, or other stakeholders; but that embraced, at our insistence, the volunteer workers of these entities in addition to the paid workers.
The Third Sector Impact Project (TSI) in which we are now involved has provided a chance to take account of a broader set of institutions and behaviors that share with nonprofits a social purpose mission and that, like NPIs, occupy a social space outside the market, the state, and the family. Included here are cooperatives, mutuals, social enterprises, and unpaid individual activity beyond that undertaken through NPIs. Our problem, however, was that some cooperatives or mutuals are large commercial banks and insurance companies, the dividing line between social enterprises and plain vanilla for-profit companies is vague at best, and much work without pay is really unpaid family labor in informal businesses. It was therefore necessary to find a way to differentiate the in-scope from the out-of-scope such institutions and behaviors.
Fortunately, with help from our TSI Project team, we have now managed to formulate such a consensus conceptualization of a broader “third sector” or “social economy” that could potentially be integrated into the national accounts statistical system. This conceptualization is available in a Policy Brief and a slightly longer Working Paper.
All of us at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies are in awe of the resilience of the world’s “third,” or “social economy,” sector and fervently hope that your organization can continue to find over the coming year the right balance between the steps that ensure your resilience and the ones that preserve and protect your values.
We wish you and yours peace, joy, and resilience this holiday season and in 2016!


Artwork: Annual lighting of Baltimore’s Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Place by Nolan Cartwright of EMP Collective, Baltimore, MD.


Posted in: Media & outreach

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