A Brief History of the Center


Dr. Lester Salamon joined Johns Hopkins University from the Urban Institute as Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research and renamed it the Institute for Policy Studies. A central impetus for choosing to call the institute the Institute of Policy Studies—rather than the more traditional Institute for Public Policy Studies—was the recognition that the resolution of public problems around the world was increasingly becoming a collaborative undertaking involving all three sectors—government, nonprofit, and business. Reflecting this, Dr. Salamon chose to use a triangle as the visual representation for this new Institute to highlight the collaborative nature of modern public problem-solving involving all three sectors.

Enabling and strengthening the collaboration between these sectors to address the pressing social challenges facing communities around the world informed the mission of the Institute to “examine ways to strengthen and mobilize the capabilities and resources of all three sectors in addressing today’s complex problems.”


The Institute launched the Johns Hopkins International Fellows in Philanthropy Program, which brought international scholars or practitioners involved in nonprofit sector work abroad to the JHU campus for study and research on a topic related to the nonprofit, philanthropic, and volunteer sector. Ultimately, this program involved 150 Fellows from 55 countries, many of whom have gone on to become some of most prominent members of the nonprofit sector research community and important civil society leaders and innovators around the world.


With the rumblings of change escalating in Central and Eastern Europe, the Institute launched the Third Sector Project, which sought to take advantage of the important openings in this part of the world to provide training to the emerging nonprofit leaders in this region. This Project ultimately produced 50 nonprofit management trainers in Russia and throughout Central Europe, profoundly strengthening the understanding and operations of nonprofit organizations in these regions.


The Institute embarked on one of the most ambitious international research efforts focused on the nonprofit sector to date—the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP)—to document the scope, structure, financing, and role of the civil society sector around the world in solid empirical terms for the first time. Starting with an initial 13 countries, this project ultimately expanded to 44 countries and involved approximately 600 local researchers over its 20-year life—many of whom were first introduced to this field of research under this project and have gone on to play prominent and leading roles in the field.


Dr. Salamon published the first edition of America’s Nonprofit Sector: A Primer (Foundation Center). This volume, and its subsequent 2nd (1999) and 3rd (2012) editions quickly came to be among the the standard texts used in college-level courses on the nonprofit sector in the United States.


Against this backdrop, an international research society, called the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR), was created with much of the original leadership coming from the Local Associates of the CNP Project. This Society was housed at the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins, and is now an independent organization involving 900 scholars.


The Institute established two major educational programs—Johns Hopkins Masters in Public Policy (MPP) and the Certificate Program in Nonprofit Studies.

Dr. Salamon’s book, Partners in Public Service: Government Relations in the Modern Welfare State (Johns Hopkins University Press) was also released in 1995. This influential text discusses the theoretical basis of government/nonprofit cooperation, shows why government came to rely on nonprofit groups to administer public programs, documents the scope of the resulting partnership in the U.S., and explores the expanding scope of government-nonprofit collaboration at the international level. Partners in Public Service went on to win the 1996 ARNOVA Award for Distinguished Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research the 2012 Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award from the American Political Science Association.


Dr. Salamon resigned his position as Director of the Institute of Policy Studies. In order to continue his work, he created the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies within the Institute.


The final year of the 20th Century was an important one in the evolution of the Center. Thanks to a major general operating grant awarded by Atlantic Philanthropies, the Center was able to launch several major new projects during this year.

First, as evidence assembled by the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project demonstrated the gross inadequacy of official data on the nonprofit sector internationally, the Center approached the United Nations Statistics Division with a recommendation that the prevailing international guidance system for economic data, the System of National Accounts, be revised to bring the nonprofit sector into clearer view. The goal of this effort was to shift the responsibility for generating basic economic data on the nonprofit sector from the independent and academic research community on to official economic statistics agencies in countries throughout the world. The UNSD ultimately accepted this recommendation, and the Center began work in cooperation with a Technical Experts Group on a Handbook to accomplish this task in 1999. In early 2003, the United Nations Statistical Commission gave its final approval to the official UN Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts. The Center then launched an international dissemination and technical assistance project that ultimately secured implementation commitments from 33 countries, and at least 24 countries have completed satellite accounts.

Second, the Center launched the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project (NED), which developed a novel methodology to draw on a previously untapped Bureau of Labor Statistics source of data to document the size, composition, distribution, and growth of U.S. nonprofit employment and wages. Ultimately, the NED Project produced more than 50 reports using these data. These reports have in turn been instrumental in demonstrating the nonprofit sector’s important role as a powerful economic engine and identifying key nonprofit trends. States and localities have used NED data to advocate for the sector and to educate policymakers and the public about the sector’s vital role not only as a program and service provider, but also as a major employer and growing industry.

At the same time, the Center also launched the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Listening Post Project (LPP) in collaboration with 11 nonprofit intermediary organizations. The Listening Post Project regularly surveyed over 1200 grassroots U.S. nonprofit organizations across the country to provide up-to-date information on various issues affecting nonprofit organizations in their day-to-day activities and issued reports, or “Communiqués,” on the results. A total of 22 Communiqués were released over the life of this Project.

This year also saw the publication of the first volume in the Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector series. Produced in collaboration with an international team of colleagues this volume presented a comprehensive country-by-country analysis of the scope, size, composition, and financing of the civil society sector in 22 countries around the world. Global Civil Society won the ARNOVA Virginia Hodgkinson Award for best publication in the nonprofit field in 2001.


Dr. Salamon published the seminal text, The Tools of Government: A Guide to the New Governance (Oxford University Press), which examined an array of tools of public action that had transformed the public sector from a provider to an arranger of services, with profound implications for public management and democratic governance.

Also published in 2002, The State of Nonprofit America (Brooking Institution Press), summarized critical opportunities and challenges for the nonprofit sector in the U.S., examined each of the sector’s major fields, and assessed important cross-cutting trends and issues. This volume, and its revised Second Edition (Brookings Institution Press, 2012), came to serve as the basic sourcebooks for sector leaders, the press, public officials, and citizens concerned about the future of America’s nonprofit sector and eager to understand the forces affecting it.


In response to feedback that one of the UN NPI Handbook’s recommendations relating to the measurement of volunteer work could not be implemented because of the absence of international standards on how to define or measure the value of volunteer work, the Center approached the International Labour Organization to develop an official ILO guidance document on this set of issues. The resulting ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work was officially finalized 2011, and the Center launched the Global and European Volunteer Measurement Projects to promote its implementation.

Also in 2008, the Center launched the Philanthropication thru Privatization Project (PtP) in collaboration with the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) to explore and promote the option for building community-based philanthropic endowments by capturing a portion of the proceeds of a broad range of transactions involving the transfer of public or quasi-public assets into private hands to seed foundation endowments around the world. This project surfaced nearly 650 existing foundations holding more than US$200 billion in assets that were endowed in this way over the past half-century and articulated the process and concept for the first time.


The Center launched the New Frontiers in Philanthropy Project (NFP) to broaden the base of knowledge and boost awareness about emerging actors and tools in the leveraged philanthropy and social investing arenas. The project cast a wide net in defining philanthropy as the mobilization of private resources towards social and environmental objectives. The project produced two major volumes, published in 2014, examining the full range of these developments, and brought these developments to the widest possible audience through an aggressive dissemination and field broadening initiative.


In July 2012, the Center convened the 21st—and final—International Fellows in Philanthropy Conference in Lisbon, Portugal on the grounds of the Calouste Gulbenkinan Foundation.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a first series of data on nonprofit employment and wages employing the methodology developed by the Nonprofit Economic Data Project produced under an official BLS research program. This release spurred BLS statisticians to further refine the methodology to include an additional set of institutions called “reimbursables” resulting in a more comprehensive release in 2019.


The Center and the United Nations Statistical Division undertook a major revision of the 2003 UN NPI Handbook. This revision took into account several major developments to provide additional guidance to permit the extension of the resulting satellite accounts to include a broader conception of the “third sector” to at least some of the emerging “social economy” and “social enterprise” entities, as well as some forms of direct volunteering, which had not been previously included in official statistical procedures. The resulting Satellite Account on Nonprofit and Related Institutions and Volunteer Work was released by the UN in 2018.

Also in 2015, the Center welcomed its 150th and final Philanthropy Fellow, Erik Petrovski of Denmark.


This year brought the publication of Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach (Johns Hopkins University Press). This volume served as the capstone of the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project’s work over 25 years, drawing together all of the systematic comparative data on the nonprofit sector, volunteering, and philanthropy assembled on more than 40 countries around the world. It also provided the first systematic, empirical test of the two major sets of existing theories that have been advanced to explain variations in civil society development and formulates and tests an alternative “social origins” theory that attributes the variations in civil society strength and composition around the world to the relative power of different social and economic groupings and institutions during critical turning points in national development.

Also in 2017, as an evolution of the Nonprofit Economic Data Project, the Center launched Nonprofit Works, an interactive database to provide user-guided access to U.S. nonprofit employment, establishment, and wage data on the national, state, county, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and industry levels, including contextual comparisons to for-profit and government counterparts.


The Center suffered the loss of colleague Dr. Helen Stone Tice in March of 2018. A long-time analyst at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Helen pioneered the analysis of the nonprofit sector during her tenure at there, pushing hard to establish this sector as a legitimate arena for explicit statistical focus within the official national accounts statistical system operated in the U.S. by BEA. Helen’s firm grasp of the arcane “SNA” system was fundamental to the success of the Center’s work to develop the UN Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts.


The Center was informed in 2019 that its website was selected for permanent archiving by the U.S. Library of Congress as part of the Library’s historic collection of Internet materials related to the Public Policy Topics Web Archive. Per the Library: “We consider your website to be an important part of this collection and the historical record.”


During a difficult year, the Center lost a long-time, key colleague with the passing of Dr. S. Wojciech Sokolowski in May of 2020. Wojciech joined the Center in 1992 in the early days of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project and served for nearly 30 years as the Center’s resident data expert. His expertise in national income accounting was fundamental to the development of the United Nations Handbooks and to the Nonprofit Economic Data Project.


On August 20, 2021, Center Director Dr. Lester Salamon passed away following an extended illness. True to form, he was actively working until the very last possible moment.

In a promising culmination of the Center’s work to improve data on the nonprofit sector both in the U.S. and internationally, Section 9 of the Nonprofit Strength and Partnership Act, drafted by Representative Betty McCollum in December 2021, included the data collection elements from both the Nonprofit Economic Data Project and the UN TSE Sector Handbook—directing the BEA produce TSE satellite accounts in the U.S. and calling on BLS to release employment and wage data on a quarterly basis.


On January 14, 2022, the Center officially ceased operations.