Statement on the passing of Lester Salamon

By on August 23, 2021


With great sorrow, we write to share the news that Dr. Lester M. Salamon passed away on Friday August 20, 2021. Our collective loss will resonate across the field of nonprofit and third sector research in the United States and throughout the world. Dr. Salamon pioneered the empirical study of the nonprofit sector in the United States and then globally in partnership with extended network of colleagues.

His research was foundational for the global nonprofit/civil society sector. He entered the field of nonprofit research somewhat by chance in the late 1970s as a political science professor-turned government official. As the Deputy Associate Director in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under President Carter, Dr. Salamon came to recognize the lack of systematic information available about government funding streams to nonprofit organizations for the delivery of social services—what was then a very little-known corner of the economy. The experience launched a quest for basic economic data about the scope, structure, financing, and role of the sector in the United States, which he subsequently realized was also severely lacking in almost every other country.

He dedicated the last 40 years to the idea that the generation and institutionalization of basic economic data about nonprofit, social economy, and civil society institutions, as well as volunteer work in the existing administrative systems could be leveraged to enhance both the understanding and credibility of this important set of institutions, and for the development of sound public and economic policy.

Dr. Salamon’s efforts were made possible in large part by his ability to conceive of projects of massive scope, and to galvanize and manage hundreds of partnerships leveraging an enormous network of scholars, researchers, practitioners, as well as government and United Nations officials. It was in his work with a team of researchers, first at The Urban Institute where he conceived of and managed the Urban Institute’s Nonprofit Sector Project, and later at the Johns Hopkins University where he founded both the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Civil Studies. It was under these auspices where he and his colleagues developed the seminal structural-operational definition of the nonprofit sector. This definition remains fundamental to our collective understanding of the organizational core of the nonprofit sector and formed the basis for all the Center’s major international research projects.

The result of these partnerships is evident in nearly every corner of the sector. Author of more than twenty books, his America’s Nonprofit Sector: A Primer, Third Edition, (Foundation Center, 2012) is the standard text used in college-level courses on the nonprofit sector in the United States. His Partners in Public Service: Government and the Nonprofit Sector in the Modern Welfare State (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) won the 1996 ARNOVA Award for Distinguished Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research, and in 2012 was awarded the Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award from the American Political Science Association.

Internationally, the information generated by the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project—a study of the scope, structure, financing, and role of the nonprofit sector in more than 40 countries around the world involving a network of some 150 researchers and research institutes, over 50 funding organizations, and several hundred nonprofit and philanthropic leaders on six continents—produced some of the first internationally comparative information on the nonprofit sector in several countries. Many new research programs were formed globally on this basis. Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector (1999), which published the globally comparative results produced by the international team of colleagues, won the Virginia Hodgkinson Award for best publication in the nonprofit field in 2001.

Dr. Salamon lived to see the structural operational definition adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission and the International Labour Organization (for volunteer work) and institutionalized into the data-generating and reporting institutions of national governments around the world. In the capstone book of the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), he was able to use the resulting data to addresses the important analytical question of what accounts for the cross-national variations in the size and contours of the civil society sector around the world.

Dr. Salamon held the enduring hope that scholars and researchers would recognize the value of these newly institutionalized data, and the need to nurture these innovations if they are to continue to serve the sector for which he worked so diligently and unwaveringly to recognize. In his later years at Johns Hopkins, he focused on keeping the third sector on the working agendas of the United Nations Statistics Division, and expanded his focus to work with partners to shine a light on the many other under-appreciated, untapped, and unexplained emerging forms of philanthropy that could be leveraged for social good. In this vein he published New Frontiers of Philanthropy: A Guide to the New Tools and Actors Reshaping Global Philanthropy and Social Investing (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Philanthropication thru Privatization: Building Permanent Endowments for the Common Good (il Mulino Press, 2014), which was the initial publication as part of a larger project in collaboration with the East-West Management Institute which sought to establish new, largely-untapped funding streams for philanthropic work around the globe.

At the time of his passing, Dr. Salamon was Professor Emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. In addition, Dr. Salamon held an appointment as Senior Research Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center and served as the founding Scientific Director of the International Laboratory for Nonprofit Sector Studies at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. He previously served as the founding Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

Dr. Salamon received his B.A. degree in Economics and Policy Studies from Princeton University and his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. He was Chairman Emeritus and Member of the Board of the Community Foundation of the Chesapeake, a past Board Member of the International Society for Third Sector Research, and has served on the editorial boards of several journals.

While Dr. Salamon’s passing catches many of us off guard, true-to-form, he was actively working until the very last possible moment. His dedication, energy, and passion will be hard to match.

On behalf of Dr. Salamon’s many research and academic colleagues, former staff, and collaborators, we extend our deepest condolences to his wife Lynda, sons Noah and Matt, grandchildren Vanessa, Zoe, Zev, Cas, Benjamin, and Dominick, and siblings Myron Salamon and Renee Green. In lieu of flowers, the family suggest donations to the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, 900 Bestgate Road, Suite 400, Annapolis, MD 21401; the Tougaloo College, 500 West County Line Road, Tougaloo, MS 39174; or the International Rescue Committee, 122 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10168.

The family has invited Dr. Salamon’s colleagues and friends to attend a virtual service in his memory at 10:00am EDT on Wednesday, August 25. To join via Zoom. Please contact Chelsea at the email below if you would like to join the service remotely.

We invite you to share your memories and reflections of Dr. Salamon’s work, life, and impact. Your statements will be posted on the CCSS blog and will be shared with his family. You can send these by replying to this email or directly to chelsea.newhouse@jhu.edu. You can also share condolences directly with Dr. Salamon’s family via the Sol Levenson funeral home.

With our sincere condolences and solidarity in the face of this great loss,

Chelsea Newhouse
Megan Haddock

Please visit our memorial page to see reflections from colleagues around the world on Dr. Salamon’s impact and legacy.

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 chelsea.newhouse@jhu.edu.