Schar School’s Nonprofit Center Brings Major Research Project to Mason

A man in a dress shirt smiles at the camera.
Alan Abramson: ‘Tapping into these additional data sources will allow for a more robust understanding of the nonprofit sector’s economic role, the demographics of the nonprofit workforce, and federal funding of nonprofit organizations.’

A 2017 study revealed that one in every 10 workers in the U.S. works for a nonprofit organization, indicating that the nonprofit industry is larger than all branches of manufacturing combined. Only retail and the hospitality and food service industries are larger.

That breakthrough study—as well as other important reports on the nonprofit sector—was the result of work performed by the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit-Economic Data Project (JHU-NED). With recent death of project leader Lester Salamon, the project will continue under the leadership of the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise at George Mason University.

The project, now called the George Mason University-Nonprofit Employment Data Project (GMU-NED; see it here), continues to be supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The project will be led by Alan Abramson, director of the Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise, in collaboration with center faculty members Stefan Toepler and Mirae Kim.

“We are honored to continue this important work pioneered by Dr. Salamon and his colleagues, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, Stephanie Lessans Geller, and Chelsea Newhouse,” Abramson said. “They tapped a crucial new source of data on nonprofit employment and wages embedded in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages [QCEW].

“The data from the QCEW are unique in that they are systematically collected for all sectors of the economy, making data on nonprofits directly comparable to data on for-profits and government employers. This had never been done and the nonprofit sector continues to benefit from this vital information.”

The JHU-NED team’s work tracked how nonprofits compare to their for-profit counterparts in key fields, including health care, education, social services, and the arts.

“This changed the understanding of the importance of these critical institutions,” said Abramson. “More recently, their work during the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight the impact of the crisis on these institutions provided a unique resource, which in turn, helped lead to a number of important policy changes that supported nonprofit recovery.”

Abramson added that the GMU-NED project “will not only continue the work of the JHU project, but will build on it, bringing the unique expertise of the Schar School’s center’s faculty and staff to bear to broaden and enhance the available data on nonprofit employment, wages, and economic impact in the U.S.”

“Nonprofit employment data is essential for informed and effective nonprofit and philanthropy advocacy efforts,” the Mott Foundation associate program officer Carlos Rios-Santiago said in a statement. “We are confident that Alan Abramson and his team at George Mason University are ready take on the challenge of producing, analyzing, and visualizing this data and are proud to support their efforts.”

The GMU-NED project will continue to issue cutting-edge reports on nonprofit establishments, employment, and wages based on available QCEW data. Mason has engaged former JHU-NED project manager Chelsea Newhouse, now a senior program manager at East-West Management Institute, to lead the production of these reports.

The Nonprofit Works interactive database application will remain live while the GMU-NED team explores options for further development of the site in anticipation for the planned 2024 release of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) employment and wage data covering 2018-22.

“We will also continue to work with our colleagues at Independent Sector, the Aspen Institute, the National Council of Nonprofits, and other organizations to seek more frequent release of nonprofit employment data by BLS,” said Abramson. “The ultimate goal is to have BLS report on nonprofit employment more frequently than every five years, which is the current reporting cycle.”

Abramson said new initiatives include broadening the nonprofit data landscape by maximizing his team’s expertise in a broad range of federal data systems to enhance and expand the pool of available data on nonprofit employment, wages, and impact.

“Tapping into these additional data sources will allow for a more robust understanding of the nonprofit sector’s economic role, the demographics of the nonprofit workforce, and federal funding of nonprofit organizations,” he said.

The GMU-NED project will also explore with other stakeholders creating and hosting a network for federal officials who work with databases containing useful nonprofit data.

“We believe convening these officials on a regular basis would be of significant benefit for the nonprofit sector by highlighting the importance of nonprofit data for federal data experts, creating opportunities for collaboration, and expanding the pool of experts who can support nonprofit data generation, publication, and analysis within Federal data systems,” Abramson said.