Announcement Nonprofit Employment Data Project

George Mason University Nonprofit Scholars Launch a New Phase of the Nonprofit Employment Data Project

The Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University is pleased to announce that it has received support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to continue the important work of the Johns Hopkins University – Nonprofit Economic Data (JHU-NED) Project following the passing of Dr. Lester Salamon in August 2021. The project will be led by Dr. Alan Abramson, director of the Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise, in collaboration with his Center faculty colleagues Dr. Stefan Toepler and Dr. Mirae Kim.

Led by Dr. Lester M. Salamon in collaboration with his colleagues S. Wojciech Sokolowski, Stephanie Lessans Geller, and Chelsea Newhouse, the JHU-NED Project surfaced and tapped a crucial new source of data on nonprofit employment and wages embedded in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 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. These data revealed that, as of 2017, the nonprofit sector employed more than 1 in every 10 non-government workers in the US—more than all branches of the manufacturing industry combined and behind only retail trade and accommodation and food services. The JHU-NED team’s work to track how this changed over time and how nonprofits compared to their for-profit counterparts in key fields, including health care, education, social services, and the arts, changed the understanding of the importance of these critical institutions. 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.

The George Mason University – Nonprofit Employment Data (GMU-NED) Project will not only continue the work of the JHU project, but will build on it, bringing the unique expertise of the GMU Center’s faculty and staff to bear to broaden and enhance the available data on nonprofit employment, wages, and economic impact in the US. According to Mott Foundation Associate Program Officer Carlos Rios-Santiago, “Nonprofit employment data is essential for informed and effective nonprofit and philanthropy advocacy efforts. 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.”

What will stay the same
  • Cutting-edge reports. The GMU-NED Project will continue to produce cutting-edge reports on nonprofit establishments, employment, and wages based on available BLS QCEW data. GMU 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—which will ensure consistency and comparability between previous and new research. As a first step, please look for a brief on current COVID-19 employment impact estimates in December.

In 2023, we will release a major report on state-level data covering the pandemic period and testing the estimates against real-world data. This latter report will also provide important insights into nonprofit wages during the pandemic years, and reveal how nonprofits fared in terms of maintaining wage competitiveness with their for-profit counterparts.

And, of course, we look forward to analyzing the next national BLS data release in 2024, which will include data for 2018-2022 on the national, state, county, and MSA-level data.

  • Nonprofit Works. In addition, the Nonprofit Works interactive database application will remain live while we explore options for further development of the site in anticipation for the planned 2024 release of BLS employment and wage data covering 2018-2022.
  • Data advocacy. 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. The ultimate goal is to have BLS report on nonprofit employment more frequently than every five years, which is the current reporting cycle. As shared by our advocacy partner Independent Sector: “The Nonprofit Economic Data Project revolutionized how policymakers, sector leaders, and the American public view the immense contributions of the nonprofit sector. The importance of that work has never been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent Sector has been honored to advocate with our partners in recent years for critical data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and more. We are thrilled that this work will continue and grow under the leadership of the Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise at George Mason University.”
What we will add
  • Broadening the nonprofit data landscape. We will look to tap our 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.

In some cases, these data aren’t being fully used by those interested in the nonprofit sector because sector leaders and researchers are simply unfamiliar with the data sources. In other cases, information on nonprofits in the data sources is incomplete, inaccurate, or not fully identified, and adjustments or corrections are needed before the data can be used with confidence. But, while obstacles to using federal data sources for nonprofit purposes exist, there is great potential in making greater use of these sources. To address this, the project will identify several of the major federal data systems that have the potential to be more useful to nonprofit stakeholders and convene relevant stakeholders—including federal data staff, nonprofit researchers, and nonprofit leaders—to develop plans for overcoming the obstacles preventing better use of these federal data. For example, with one data source, Bureau of Economic Analysis data on nonprofits as a share of the overall economy, a first step would be to convene government and university-based researchers to better understand the strengths and limitations of the current data and how the data can appropriately be used to inform the work of nonprofit leaders. This initiative will follow up work begun by Alan Abramson during his year as a visiting scholar at Independent Sector on developing a state of the nonprofit sector report.

  • Synergies with sector data projects. The GMU-NED Project is well positioned to explore synergies with other on-going efforts to make data on the nonprofit sector more readily accessible. Specifically, we will explore the possibility of folding the BLS and other federal databases on nonprofits into an on-going effort to develop a platform that can become a warehouse of various datasets on the nonprofit sector under the “Developing a Data Platform for Analysis of Nonprofit Organizations” project, funded by the National Science Foundation. GMU-NED Director Alan Abramson and Dr. Mirae Kim, who have been involved in this effort, will lead the discussion around integrating BLS and other federal data into the platform. 
  • Building networks for nonprofit data. 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.

Our team at George Mason University is excited to partner with the Mott Foundation and the East-West Management Institute to carry the important work of the JHU-NED project forward, to expand the available data on the nonprofit sector, and to ensure that this vital information remains available to sector stakeholders. “The exceptional team at the GMU-NED Project is uniquely positioned to carry on the pioneering work of Lester Salamon and his colleagues,” said Cinthia Schuman Ottinger, Director of the Nonprofit Data Project at the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation. “The nation’s third largest private employer—the nonprofit sector—continues to face extraordinary needs in the wake of COVID-19 and economic challenges. A regular source of employment and wage data to track the nonprofit workforce and its capacity has never been more essential. I look forward to working and advocating with GMU!”

For inquiries, contact:

Chelsea Newhouse,

Kristina Podesta,

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