The Center’s 12 gifts of 2012

By on December 19, 2012

It has been another busy and productive year for the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. We have expanded the base of knowledge about nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and around the world; gathered our Philanthropy Fellows family for our 21st Conference, this time in lovely Portugal; ventured farther than we have ever done into the world of philanthropy, but philanthropy quite broadly conceived; and, uncharacteristically for us given our reputation for charting the economic scale of the civil society sector, launched a major effort to identify, and renew the sector’s commitment to, its distinctive values. In truth, of course, value concerns have never been far from the work that we do, or from the connections we have forged with the numerous colleagues and partners we rely on. This is an opportunity, therefore, to let our colleagues, our support system at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, the many funders of our work, and our wide-ranging collaborators on book projects and studies know how much we value their contributions to what we do. Listed below is a description of some of the twelve major gifts that they have helped us to deliver in 2012.
A FORCE-FIELD OF COMPETING IMPULSES. “A struggle is under way for the ‘soul’ of America’s nonprofit sector,” writes Center Director Lester M. Salamon in the introductory chapter to the second edition of his The State of Nonprofit America, published earlier this year. Nonprofits are caught in a force field pulling them simultaneously back to their voluntaristic roots, toward greater professionalism, into expanded civic engagement, and into deeper engagement with commercialism and the market. What kind of balance is reached among these partially competing impulses will have enormous implications for what nonprofits become, how they go about their work, and what role they play in American life. Through its 19 chapters, the collaborators in this new volume provide a rare detailed look into how these forces are playing out in all the major facets of America’s nonprofit landscape.

A TIME FOR RENEWAL. One central conclusion of The State of Nonprofit America is that America’s nonprofit sector is due for a serious process of renewal, which needs to start with a rediscovery of its central values. To aid with this, the Center’s Listening Post Steering Committee warmly endorsed a proposal to use one of our Listening Post Soundings to determine whether we could identify a set of values that a broad cross-section of nonprofit organizations could agree constitute the core of the nonprofit sector’s distinctive attributes. Fortunately, we found a surprising degree of consensus around seven core values, but considerable concern about whether these values are sufficiently recognized by key stakeholders, or by those in the sector itself. We have consequently launched a social media campaign to stimulate a discussion of these core nonprofit values and provoke more explicit attention to them on the part of both the organizations and their stakeholders. You can read the full report here.
HOLDING THE FORT. One of the interesting findings of our nonprofit values survey was that nonprofits tend not to emphasize their productiveness—their contribution to the economic vitality of the communities in which they operate. Our Center was therefore pleased to be able to bring new data to the fore this past year that challenges this misconception. What we discovered is that the nonprofit sector employs the third largest workforce of any U.S. industry and that its workforce grew at a faster rate than the for-profit sector’s almost every year over the decade of 2000-2010, including during the recent recession.
$1.3 TRILLION AND COUNTING. For those interested in a deeper dive into the details of America’s vast nonprofit landscape, 2012 also saw the appearance of the 3rd edition of our America’s Nonprofit Sector: A Primer. There a vast assortment of tidbits of information is available about how the nonprofit sector is faring in each of its many fields, from health and social services to culture and religion. You can learn, for example, that for-profits are rapidly gaining ground on nonprofits in the traditional nonprofit field of social services. With 28 percent of social service jobs as of 1997, for-profits captured 51 percent of the growth in social service jobs between 1997 and 2007.
A VISIT TO LISBON. The arts and culture sector has been especially hard hit by the global economic crisis and resulting austerity measures across Europe. Our 21st International Fellows in Philanthropy conference explored the impacts of these challenges, ways that the third sector could help to address them, and lessons other countries can take from the coping strategies already in place.
THE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE. Despite some widespread misperceptions, the nonprofit sector is hardly a uniquely U.S. phenomenon. Thanks to the United Nations Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions, which we were privileged to help develop, new data are now being generated on this sector in a wide array of countries. During 2012, statistical authorities in three additional countries—Portugal, Mexico, and India—issued their first ever “satellite accounts” on nonprofit institutions following the procedures outlined in this UN Handbook. The results were striking. In India, statistical officials identified no fewer than 450,000 active nonprofit organizations in that country (well larger than the 320,000 organizations that file the required Form 990 yearly in the U.S.). In Mexico, the nonprofit sector employs over 1 million paid workers, representing 2.7% of the total paid workforce; and in Portugal, 185,000 nonprofit employees make up 4.3% of the workforce. These and other results of the implementation of this UN Handbook were documented in a paper presented at the conference of the International Society for Third-Sector Research in Sienna, Italy, in July, and showed that the nonprofit sector coming into view using the UN Handbook is several times larger than that previously visible in national statistics.
THE VOLUNTEER DIMENSION. Paid employment and financial weight are not the only measures of the nonprofit sector’s contribution globally. Also important is the volunteer effort that these organizations help to mobilize. And 2012 witnessed the initiative begun during Europe’s 2011 European Year of Volunteering to stimulate the implementation in Europe of a new Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work that we worked on cooperatively with the International Labour Organization. Two countries—Hungary and Poland—completed implementation of their first-ever surveys of volunteer work using the ILO Manual as a guide and two other countries—Italy and Montenegro—have started down the road to implementation. Surprisingly, once direct volunteering is included, Hungary and Poland turn out to have volunteer participation rates that rival those of the U.S., challenging widespread stereotypes.
A NEW PARTNERSHIP. As more countries move ahead to implement the UN Nonprofit Institution Handbook and ILO Volunteer Measurement Manual, an important opportunity arises to “light up” the world’s nonprofit sector to funders, contributors, aid agencies, and international organizations. To take maximum advantage of this opportunity, our Center has forged a partnership with TechSoup Global to explore ways to increase access to information about the global nonprofit sector and channel additional resources to it.
A WINDOW INTO OFFICIAL EUROPE. As the range of countries implementing the UN Nonprofit Institution Handbook and the ILO Volunteer Measurement Manual expands, recognition of the importance of this sector grows. Welcome evidence of this arrived this fall with an invitation from Eurostat, Europe’s statistical agency, to make a presentation about the new statistical guidance machinery to capture nonprofit organizations in official statistics to a high-level Eurostat meeting of Europe’s Directors of Macro-Economic Statistics.
FROM GLOBAL TO LOCAL. Thanks to our access to a variety of new data sources on the nonprofit sector, our Center is able to help nonprofit, philanthropic, and government leaders understand the charitable sector and how it is faring not only nationally and internationally, but also locally. For example, we were able recently to deliver an assessment of the state of health of nonprofits and foundations in the State of Virginia to charitable and government leaders in that state. The report pointed up the sizable economic presence of nonprofits in this state and proved “eye-opening” to the state’s Secretary of Economic Development, who attended a release event for the report in Richmond.
CHARTING THE NEW FRONTIERS OF PHILANTHROPY. A key challenge facing nonprofits and other social-purpose organizations is the generation of risk capital. The Center is addressing this challenge through the New Frontiers of Philanthropy Project, which is attempting to improve understanding of the enormous new actors and tools surfacing in the philanthropic and social investing arenas. Interest in this work is burgeoning and the Center’s major book on this topic is nearing completion and has just been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press. Center staff are already reaching out to major audiences to disseminate the resulting content, with significant recent presentations at the Impact Investment Exchange’ first Impact Forum in Singapore, and the NetImpact Conference in Baltimore.
A MUCH APPRECIATED HONOR. 2012, a year of continued funding challenges for all of us in this field, was also a year of unexpected and much appreciated professional recognition. Foremost here was the presentation by the American Political Science Association of its Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award to the Center’s Director for his 1996 book, Partners in Public Service: Government-Nonprofit Relations in the Modern Welfare State. We have viewed this not so much as a personal award as a long-overdue recognition by a major discipline-based professional society of the powerful and growing importance of civil society organizations in addressing public problems and contributing to human well-being.