2020 Hit Hard: Researchers Release Findings on Long-Term Trends Among Nonprofits

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Schar School associate professor Mirae Kim in glasses smiles at the camera.
Mirae Kim: ‘The findings will greatly impact shaping many important policies that influence the work nonprofits do and the people served by those nonprofits.’

A new report from the Urban Institute details national findings on donation trends from 2015-19 and in 2020. It also examines diversity and representation within the nonprofit sector, and the first-year impacts on nonprofits by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study—Nonprofit Trends and Impacts 2020—was conducted by scholars from George Mason University, American University, and the Urban Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based economic and social policy research organization. See the study. A complementary fact-sheet is here.

“Nonprofit organizations in the U.S. play a vital role in delivering services, strengthening communities, and facilitating civic engagement, however, until now we lacked a nationally representative portrait of the nonprofit sector detailing donation trends and experiences of nonprofits across a variety of dimensions,” said study contributor Mirae Kim, an associate professor at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government and a co-editor of Nonprofit Policy Forum.

“Our report fills this gap using the nationally representative survey of nonprofit organizations,” she added. “The findings will greatly impact shaping many important policies that influence the work nonprofits do and the people served by those nonprofits.”

The new report, released this week, draws on survey results from a newly launched, nationally representative panel study of nonprofits, the first of its kind to annually survey the same nonprofits and allow researchers to note trends in the sector.

In addition to releasing the research report, the Urban Institute also released a related open dataset. Read more about the project and public use data.

A preview of some key takeaways include:

  • Most organizations experienced donation growth from 2015 through 2019, but for many, that trend reversed in 2020. From 2015 through 2019, 58 percent of nonprofits experienced growth in donations, 32 percent experienced stable donations, and 10 percent experienced decreased donations. The events of 2020 disrupted this trend for many nonprofits.
  • The disruptions of 2020 were felt by nonprofits of all sizes, but a greater share of small organizations, which make up most of the sector and most heavily depend on donations, experienced decreased donations in 2020.

The collaboration was motivated by the piecemeal nature of most research on nonprofit organizations, which could not be aggregated to understand the important contributions and needs of nonprofit organizations both across the U.S. and within communities, the Urban Institute said in a statement. The collaboration is working to improve research on the sector, share what is learned with the nonprofit and research communities, and help policymakers and the public make informed decisions that affect or support nonprofit organizations.

The study was funded by the Generosity Commission, a project of the Giving Institute and Giving USA Foundation, and was partially funded by the National Science Foundation Human Networks and Data Science Infrastructure Program.



The Schar School of Policy and Government is one of the 10 schools and colleges of George Mason University, with approximately 2,000 students, 90 full-time faculty members, and 23 degree and certificate programs offered on Mason’s campuses in Fairfax and Arlington, Va. Among the degree programs are government and international affairs, public policy, public administration, political science, international security, and international commerce and policy. The Schar School prepares undergraduate and graduate students to be leaders and managers who solve problems and advance the public good in all sectors and levels of government—in the United States and throughout the world.

For more, contact Communications Manager Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

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