Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (1991-2017)

The Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP) was the largest systematic comparative effort ever undertaken to analyze the scope, structure, financing, and role of the private nonprofit sector in countries around the world in order to enrich understanding of this sector, and to provide a sounder basis for both public and private action towards it.

Begun in 1991, this project grew out of an increased need for basic information about civil society organizations following the tremendous growth in the number and size of nonprofit organizations in the second half of the 20th century. This “global associational revolution” forced a reappraisal of the respective roles of the market and the state and focused new attention on the role of private, nonprofit organizations. Despite this growing importance, these organizations remained poorly understood almost everywhere, making it difficult to determine their capabilities or to attract attention to their challenges.

To address the need for improved data, the CNP launched by working with teams of local researchers in an initial 13 countries to produce the first systematic body of internationally comparative data on CSOs, philanthropy, and volunteerism. This ambitious project aimed to:

  • Document the scope, structure, financing, and role of the civil society sector in solid empirical terms.
  • Explain why this sector varies in size, composition, character, and role from place to place and identify the factors that seem to encourage or retard its development, including differences in history, legal arrangements, religious backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic structures, and patterns of government policy.
  • Evaluate the impact these organizations have and the contributions they make, as well as the drawbacks they entail.
  • Highlight of this set of institutions by disseminating the results of the work.
  • Build local capacity to carry on the work in the future.

To pursue these objectives, the project utilized a comparative empirical approach that relied heavy on a team of Local Associates in the project countries who each tested and collaborated to revise and strengthen the a common research framework, set of definitions, and information-gathering strategies; and a network of national and international advisory committees to oversee progress and help disseminate results. A detailed description of the methodology is available here.

Ultimately extending to 46 total countries spanning all of the world’s continents and most of its major religious and cultural traditions, this project produced a rich body of comparative data, the Johns Hopkins Global Civil Society Index, several books, and more than 60 published working papers written or edited by Center Staff and Local Associates.

Countries Covered and Local Associates

The project relied heavily upon researchers in project countries to carry out the extensive work required to assess the applicability of the definition in the local context and to gather the rigorous data needed to integrate each project country into the Center’s data set. Hover over the highlighted countries in the map below to learn about the CNP local associates.

CNP Project Publications

Please visit the publications database to browse related publications related to the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project. Click here for related blog posts.

CNP Project Contact

For questions about the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, please contact former Project Manager Megan Haddock.