Nonprofit Economic Data Project (1999-2021)

The Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project (NED) generated critical new information on economic trends in the nonprofit sector and produced cutting-edge reports on key components of the nonprofit economy in regions and states across the country.

The major innovation of the NED Project was the development of a novel methodology to draw on a previously untapped source of data to document the size, composition, distribution, and growth of nonprofit employment and wages. In the process, the NED Project demonstrated the significant economic scale and importance of the sector on the national, state, and regional levels.

What is more, the data source NED tapped to examine this facet of nonprofit operations is both extensive and highly reliable. This data source is the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), or ES-202, data program operated by state Labor Market Information (LMI) offices in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More specifically, this system:

  • Collects quarterly data on employment, wages, and establishments for virtually all workplaces in this country, including nonprofit workplaces, and makes these data available far more quickly than almost any other source;
  • Covers both public and private workplaces in the same data system, thus making it possible to compare employment and wages across the nonprofit, for-profit, and government sectors over time and to analyze the changing patterns of nonprofit and for-profit competition;
  • Collects data at the level of individual facilities or “establishments” rather than organizations, which provides a more accurate picture of the distribution of employment across a region since many organizations operate multiple facilities located in different locales; and
  • Is economical and highly reliable because the data are already being collected and verified by state governments and the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of the nation’s unemployment insurance system.

Despite its advantages, the QCEW data were historically unavailable to yield information on the nonprofit sector because BLS lacked both the means and the incentive to separate out the nonprofit employers in their data. Working with state LMI officials, state nonprofit associations, and the BLS, the NED Project developed a methodology for tapping into the QCEW data source and extracting data on nonprofit places of employment, unlocking a treasure trove of information on the scope, structure, and changing fortunes of the nonprofit sector in states and regions throughout the country.

Drawing on this data source, the NED Project produced more than 50 reports on the size, composition, distribution, and growth of nonprofit employment across the U.S. These reports have been instrumental in demonstrating the nonprofit sector’s important role as a powerful economic engine and identifying key nonprofit trends such as the striking pattern of nonprofit employment growth, the suburbanization of nonprofit operations, and increasing for-profit competition in traditionally nonprofit-dominated fields. 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.

For instance, among other things, the NED Project showed that:

  • The nonprofit workforce is 12.5 million strong, making it the third largest “industry” in the U.S. and much more widely dispersed, outdistancing all but two major for-profit industries in its contribution to state employment and payrolls.
  • Nonprofit employment is dynamic, growing more rapidly over time than overall employment.
  • Nonprofit employment is spreading to the suburbs and rural areas.
  • Nonprofit wages actually exceed for-profit wages in many of the fields where both sectors operate.
  • Nonprofits in many states are losing "market share" to for-profit firms in many fields where both sectors are operating, despite their overall growth.

Major NED Initiatives

NONPROFIT WORKS. Nonprofit Works is a free interactive database developed by the Center with support from the C.S. Mott Foundation to provide user-guided access to U.S. nonprofit employment, establishment, and wage data on the national, state, county, Metro Statistical Area (MSA), and industry levels. In addition, users can put these data into context by comparing nonprofits to their for-profit and government counterparts operating in the same fields or to the five largest for-profit industries. Data are currently available at the state and county level for the years 1990-2017. National data are available beginning in 2007, and MSA data are available for 2013-2017. Click here to explore Nonprofit Works.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC IMPACT REPORTS. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, it became clear that, as was the case with all sectors of the economy, nonprofits faced serious employment impacts. The precise scale of these losses was not apparent, however, because the BLS does not break out nonprofits from other private employers in its monthly employment reports. In an attempt to provide baseline against which to measure the response of the sector once updated data become available, and to surface areas of concern, the NED Project undertook a series of estimates of the projected impact of COVID-related job losses on nonprofits, beginning with an estimated 1.6 million job losses from March through May included in the 2020 Nonprofit Employment Report, released in June of 2020. Beginning the following August, the NED Project began a series of monthly updates to track the estimated recovery of nonprofit employment from this nadir. Click here to explore all of these monthly reports and a summary data dashboard.

NED Project Publications

For publications related to the Nonprofit Economic Data Project, please visit the publications database. Click here for blog posts related to the Nonprofit Economic Data Project.

NED Project Contact

For all inquiries related to the Nonprofit Economic Data Project, please contact former Project Manager Chelsea Newhouse.