From its inception, a major goal of our Nonprofit Economic Data Project has been to improve the quality and availability of crucial data on nonprofit employment and wages in the United States. While we have made considerable progress toward this goal—including developing a methodology for finding nonprofits in Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) datasets and securing a commitment from BLS to release these data on a 5-year cycle—this, unfortunately, still often leaves us working with out-of-date data in these rapidly-evolving times. Indeed, the next scheduled release of these data will not take place until 2024, at which time even the most recent available data, which cover 2017, will be 7 years old.
As a result, our efforts to track the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic have been limited to estimates based on these 2017 data. As we have noted previously, our ability to track these developments would be materially enhanced if the Bureau of Labor Statistics were to release these data on a schedule similar to that used for other industries. Indeed, all other industries—such as goat farming and limousine services—receive quarterly releases of these data, providing researchers, advocates, and policymakers the information needed to understand and respond to challenges facing these industries on a real-time basis, as well as to track the effectiveness of interventions meant to support them.
This is not the case, however, for the nonprofit sector, which employs the nation’s 3rd largest workforce. What is more, due to the nature of these organizations, they may require different approaches to provide the most effective support in difficult times, and without regular, reliable workforce data, it is difficult for to identify the type of help it needs from policymakers and funders. Thus, under the current release schedule, we will not be able to truly understand the impacts of the pandemic on the nonprofit workforce—and whether the interventions undertaken to mitigate these impacts were effective—for at least 3 more years.
Today, we have a unique opportunity to move the needle on this issue. The Department of Labor (DOL) is currently soliciting comments on its 2022-2026 Strategic and Evidence-Building plan, which, importantly, includes a goal to “produce gold-standard statistics.” We are pleased to partner with the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project, Independent Sector, and the National Council of Nonprofits in developing a sign-on letter urging the DOL to authorize the BLS to release the critical nonprofit employment and wage data on a quarterly basis—putting it on par with other sectors in the country.
This effort will only be effective, however, with the full support of the sector behind it. Please click the link below to read the full letter and consider adding your voice to this collective effort to remedy this shortage of essential workforce data and to, ultimately, ensure that nonprofit organizations have the resources needed to achieve their missions. The signing window closes TOMORROW, August 5th, so time is of the essence!
In addition to joining the sign-on letter, your organization can make a difference by submitting public comments on the Department of Labor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022–2026 Strategic Plan. Please submit comments calling on BLS to provide quarterly data on nonprofit employment and wages to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 6. For some help crafting a message and communicating this issue to policymakers, visit the Quarterly Nonprofit Workforce Data Advocacy Toolkit provided by Independent Sector.
Chelsea Newhouse is the Communications Manager for the Center for Civil Society Studies and manages the Center's Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects and the Nonprofit Works Interactive Database. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Chelsea can be reached at email@example.com.