Symposium on Public Policy for Nonprofits

Picture with words: Request for Proposals for the 2023 symposium
picture with words: Special issues of NPF dedicated to past symposia
Picture with words: More information on upcoming and past symposia
Picture with words: Watch the 2022 symposium recording


Request for Proposals for the 2023 symposium



The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA)Independent Sector, and Nonprofit Policy Forum invite proposals for the 12th Symposium on Public Policy for Nonprofits, which will focus on surfacing promising public policy recommendations to strengthen the nonprofit sector and philanthropy.

In order to enact public policies that support nonprofits, philanthropy, and the communities they serve, policymakers must first hear from nonprofit leaders and researchers about nonprofit and community needs and policies that will address these needs. One of the best opportunities to educate policymakers is during campaign season when candidates are out in communities, visiting nonprofits, talking to constituents, and receiving ideas from researchers. As the nation looks forward to the 2024 elections and beyond, what public policy recommendations related to nonprofits and philanthropy should be considered by policymakers and others who care about the important role these institutions play in our society? This year’s Nonprofit Public Policy Symposium will feature both researchers and practitioners presenting their research and experience-based policy ideas for discussion

Proposals should contain short 600-word, preliminary descriptions of the papers they would like to present at the September event. The final papers, due August 18, 2023, for distribution to symposium participants, would then be longer 2,000-4,000 word research or experience-based articles, essays, or commentaries that will be discussed at the symposium.

We imagine that submissions may address a broad range of critical policy topics, including but not limited to:

  • The representation of nonprofits and philanthropy within government. For example, some have suggested establishing a Small Business Administration (SBA)-type agency focused on the nonprofit sector;.
  • Public policies that proactively meet the needs of small nonprofits (i.e., access to capital, federal programs to support growth & development, training to capitalize on government grants/contracts, government-subsidized benefits, etc.);
  • Policies that support recruitment and retention of talent in the nonprofit workforce;
  • Regulatory policy related to nonprofits and philanthropy;
  • Tax policy related to nonprofits and philanthropy;
  • Digital policy affecting nonprofits and philanthropy;
  • Policies affecting the civic engagement activities of nonprofits and philanthropy (volunteerism, giving, advocacy, nonpartisan voter engagement);
  • How government funding policies affect nonprofits; and
  • How the government grant and contracting process works for nonprofits.

Policy recommendations may relate to public policy at the federal, state, or local levels. However, policies should focus on the nonprofit sector and/or philanthropy as a whole or broad swaths of these, and not solely focus on a particular nonprofit subfield such as health, human services, or the arts.

Proposal Requirements

Proposals Were Due April 28

and should be submitted online on the ARNOVA website below. Submissions should include the following in a combined PDF document:

  • The proposal title;
  • A 600-word proposal describing in a preliminary way what the applicant intends to cover in a 2,000-4,000-word research or experience-based article, essay, or commentary that discusses a nonprofit policy recommendation; and
  • Short bios and short resumes or CVs for all authors.

All proposals will be reviewed by the symposium planning committee’s review panel, composed of academic and practitioner reviewers. Authors will be notified in early June 2023 of their invitation to the online policy symposium that will be convened on September 22, 2023, and which is co-sponsored by ARNOVA, Independent Sector, and Nonprofit Policy Forum. Final papers for presentation at the symposium are due by August 18, 2023.


Applicants who are selected to present at the September symposium will receive honoraria of $250. The versions of the papers presented at the symposium can be revised by authors and then submitted by February 1, 2024 for review for possible publication as research articles, research notes, policy briefs, commentaries, or other formats in the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum in a special issue devoted to papers from the Nonprofit Public Policy Symposium (see the Nonprofit Policy Forum website for details about the process for submitting to the journal).

Authors may also be invited to take part in a session at the ARNOVA annual conference in Orlando, Florida, November 16-18, 2023, although authors interested in participating will need to cover their own expenses.

For further information about the symposium, please contact Fatima Hussain at or Emily Rogers at

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Special Issues of NPF Dedicated to Past Symposia

NPF regularly publishes special issues featuring papers from Symposia on Public Policy for Nonprofits. Links, details, and the introductory remarks for the most recent special issues about the symposia can be found below.

Special Issue: Papers from the 2020 and 2021 Nonprofit Public Policy Symposia

Alan J. Abramson 

From the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum

In this special issue of Nonprofit Policy Forum, the journal is pleased to present select papers from the 2020 and 2021 Nonprofit Public Policy Symposia. These annual symposia were begun by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) in 2010 to explore important questions related to public policy affecting nonprofits and philanthropy and to deepen connections among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. In 2019, the organization Independent Sector joined ARNOVA as a symposium sponsor, and, in 2022, NPF was delighted to become an additional sponsor.

The 2020 symposium, which was held virtually in May 2020, focused on three critical issues for nonprofits and philanthropy: COVID-19 response, civic engagement, and philanthropic oversight. In the aftermath of the contentious 2020 elections, the 2021 symposium, which convened virtually in September 2021, also had a focus on nonprofits’ role in encouraging voting and other forms of civic engagement.

This special issue includes six papers from the 2020 and 2021 symposia; an additional paper from the 2020 symposium by Mark Sidel and Ming Hu on civil society and the response to COVID in China was published in NPF’s January 2021 issue. In this issue, Renee Irvin’s paper on “dark money” presents a new index to assess the opaqueness – or transparency – of 501(c)(4), social welfare nonprofits involved in policy advocacy. Margaret Post and Elizabeth Boris also look at 501(c)(4) nonprofits, which have received only modest attention to date from nonprofit scholars, and provide a framework for understanding the subset of this category of organizations that are membership-based and politically active.

Kelly LeRoux, Julie Langer, and Samantha Plotner shift attention to charitable, 501(c)(3) nonprofits and their voter mobilization activity, examining the impact on turnout of the types of messages and methods of message delivery used by these nonprofits. Jaclyn Piatak also focuses on civic engagement by going beyond consideration of economic and demographic factors to consider the role of religious attendance and political interest in influencing volunteering, voting, and blood donation. Yordanos Eyoel’s commentary highlights the promising work of “proximate democracy entrepreneurs,” who have lived experience and deep connection to civically disenfranchised communities, in repairing civic distrust, and calls for increased support for their efforts. Finally, in their research note, Lucy Bernholz, Toussaint Nothias, and Amlie-Sophie Vavrosky urge nonprofits and their stakeholders to pay greater attention to digital policy, which can have important impacts on nonprofits and the people they serve.

We encourage NPF readers to consider submitting papers for and attending the 2023 Nonprofit Public Policy Symposium, which will be held online on September 22, 2023. Detailed information about the 2023 symposium will be available beginning in April on the websites of ARNOVA, Independent Sector, and the Center on Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Social Enterprise at George Mason University, which hosts NPF.

Corresponding author: Alan J. Abramson, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, 3351 Fairfax Drive, 608 Van Metre Hall, MS 3B1, Arlington, VA 22201, USA, E-mail: aabramso@aabramson

Funding sources: Independent Sector, Association for Research on Non-Profit Organizations & Voluntary Action

Citation: Abramson, Alan J.. “Special Issue: Papers from the 2020 and 2021 Nonprofit Public Policy Symposia” Nonprofit Policy Forum, vol. 14, no. 2, 2023, pp. 99-100.

Strengthening the U.S. Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy: Policy Proposals from the 2019 ARNOVA-Independent Sector Symposium on Nonprofit Public Policy Research

Alan J. Abramson 

From the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum

The U.S. nonprofit sector plays a critical role in American society. Nonprofits partner with government to deliver vital health, human, educational, and other services; they are a significant economic force that employs 10 percent of the private workforce; they serve as an important voice for many groups – the disabled, the discriminated against, the poor, the infirm – that might not otherwise be represented in the policymaking process; they are receptive to the self-expression of artistic, religious, and other values; and they help bind diverse individuals together through volunteering, board membership, and other types of shared service and civic engagement.

Unfortunately, despite the significant contribution that the nonprofit sector makes to society, the sector remains a mystery to many policymakers who seem to know that the sector exists but who often overlook its capacities and needs when making important policy decisions. When Americans are unemployed, policymakers fail to look to the nonprofit sector as an important place to put people back to work. When people are sick or in need of help, policymakers don’t understand the important role the nonprofit sector plays in providing assistance and restoring hope. When society frays, policymakers miss the potential of the nonprofit sector to bring us together through common service. And policymakers typically fail to recognize the ways government and public policy can help strengthen the nonprofit sector and improve its capacity for doing its important work.

In 2010, to address the lack of policymaker understanding of the nonprofit sector and increase the attention of nonprofit scholars to policy-related issues, the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), the nation’s leading association of nonprofit researchers, established an annual symposium focused on stimulating nonprofit policy research and commentary. In 2019, ARNOVA teamed up with the organization Independent Sector, the premier umbrella association in the U.S. representing both public charities and private foundations, to co-host the eighth annual nonprofit public policy symposium. This issue of Nonprofit Policy Forum contains revised versions of six of the policy papers presented at that symposium.

Planning for the 2019 policy symposium began with the development of a request for policy proposals addressing a broad range of topics:

  • -Tax policy that affects charitable giving by donors of all backgrounds and economic status;
  • -Issues related to the tax-exempt status of nonprofits;
  • -Oversight of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy;
  • -How government is structured to address nonprofit issues;
  • -Government laws and regulation related to nonprofit lobbying, electoral activity, or other issues;
  • -Government contracting arrangements with nonprofits;
  • Foundation-related policy issues;
  • -Government data about and affecting the nonprofit sector, including the quality, accessibility, timeliness, and transparency/privacy of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Census Bureau, and other government agencies;
  • -Public policy that encourages civic participation, volunteerism, advocacy, and community service; and
  • -Government laws and regulations affecting nonprofit staff.

Following the review of submitted proposals by a team of nonprofit scholars and leaders, eight proposals were selected for presentation at the 2019 policy symposium. The symposium, which was held on July 29, 2019 at Independent Sector’s office in Washington, DC, was attended by 35 nonprofit researchers and leaders. Many of the policy proposals that were discussed at the July symposium were presented again at ARNOVA’s annual conference in November 2019 and then submitted to NPF for peer review and possible inclusion in this special issue. In the end, six policy proposals were selected to appear in this issue, including: two research articles, one by Nicolas Duquette and a second co-authored by Patrick Rooney, Sasha Zarins, Jonathan Bergdoll and Una Osili; two policy briefs, one by Jeffrey Berry and the other co-authored by Putnam Barber and Steven Rathgeb Smith; and two commentaries, one by Ronan Brooks and the other by Shirley Sagawa.

Notably, many of the papers in this special issue were developed with input from both nonprofit scholars and nonprofit leaders. In one case, the paper by Putnam Barber and Steven Rathgeb Smith, the authors themselves are a former nonprofit executive and a scholar, respectively. In other cases, the issues being addressed were identified as important by nonprofit leaders and the research was carried out by academics. For example, the paper by Rooney et al. draws on research commissioned by the nonprofit leadership organization Independent Sector, and the paper by Nicolas Duquette stemmed in part from interest and support from the Council of Michigan Foundations. Jeffrey Berry’s paper has its roots partly in important research on nonprofit advocacy that he completed some years ago with collaborators from OMB Watch and Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest. Ronan Brooks, who is now a law student at the University of Minnesota, drafted his paper while an intern at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. These kinds of collaborations between practitioners and researchers, where the former take the lead in identifying problems of concern, and the latter manage the research, are a fruitful way to conduct policy-relevant nonprofit research that is useful to the nonprofit community.

Accordingly, each of the policy proposals discussed in this issue addresses a problem of direct concern to nonprofit leaders. The research articles by Duquette and Rooney et al. are motivated in part by the declining percentage of all households who donate to charity. As Rooney et al. point out, the share of households who contribute to nonprofits declined from 67 percent of all households in 2000 to 56 percent of households in 2014, with the decrease especially marked among middle and low-income households. And, as both papers observe, the decline in contributing middle and low-income households was accelerated by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) which significantly raised the standard deduction, thereby eliminating the tax break for charitable giving for many of those who had previously itemized their deductions.

In response to the declining share of households who donate and the reduction in giving amounts that resulted from passage of the TCJA, both Duquette and Rooney et al. discuss a variety of tax changes that would restore incentives to give and boost giving by middle and low-income taxpayers. Duquette analyzes a two-tiered, charitable tax credit that would increase equity in the tax break for giving and encourage large gifts, all at a modest cost to the U.S. Treasury. Rooney et al. analyze five tax incentive proposals, including both itemized deductions and tax credits for charitable giving with various floors and ceilings. The researchers find that all five options would boost overall giving and the number of donor households at all income levels.

The problem that Berry and Brooks address in their papers is a perceived lack of lobbying and civic engagement activity by nonprofits and foundations. Current IRS regulations allow charitable nonprofits to engage in lobbying as long as lobbying does not comprise a substantial part of their activities. For Berry, the mistaken belief by many nonprofit leaders that their organizations are not permitted to lobby at all has weakened the voice of their organizations and, by extension, their clients in policymaking. To address this problem, Berry’s policy brief proposes three administrative changes, including strong statements by the IRS that nonprofit lobbying is legal; clear definitions of what lobbying involves; and setting the h-election, which is explicit about how much lobbying nonprofits can do, as the default condition for nonprofits rather than something they have to proactively opt into.

Brooks’s commentary focuses on IRS Section 4945(f)(2), which restricts foundations from supporting nonprofit voter registration drives unless the foundations support these drives in five or more states. Brooks suggests that this curb has roots in racist concerns about foundation support for civil rights initiatives, and calls for the repeal of this restriction which he suggests would result in more state and local nonprofits engaging in voter registration activity with foundation support.

For Barber and Smith, the problem is poorly targeted government oversight of the nonprofit sector, which puts too heavy a burden on small and medium-size, “classic,” community-based nonprofits and pays too little attention to monitoring big, complex nonprofits more likely to engage in large-scale misdeeds. The proposed remedy is to simplify registration and reporting requirements for small nonprofits and thereby free up IRS resources to better oversee bigger, more complicated nonprofit organizations. Barber and Smith would also review data collected from nonprofits by the IRS, such as through IRS Form 990, to ensure that the information requested from nonprofits best meets the needs of regulators, donors, scholars, and the public at large.

Finally, Sagawa worries that the nonprofit sector, although it employs 10 percent of the private workforce, may face a shortage of interested workers in the years to come. Her commentary suggests that national service should be seen as a source of workforce development, or on-the-job training, for the nonprofit sector, where national service participants receive a kind of civic apprenticeship and learn the skills needed for future work in the sector.

The papers in this special issue reflect the fact that significant advances have been made in increasing the quality and quantity of nonprofit policy research and commentary. However, further progress is needed, including better nonprofit data and increased funding to support policy-relevant research. Some of the authors in this special issue use data about nonprofits that is currently available from 990 forms, the philanthropy module of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), and tax models that incorporate tax provisions related to charitable giving. However, as Barber and Smith suggest, more relevant data is needed. A new Independent (2020) report, “The Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector,” calls for improving the quality and timeliness of data on the sector’s health and engaging nonprofit leaders in making sense of the data. The report specifically cites a need for increased numbers of nonprofit surveys that use random sampling. These more sophisticated studies would complement the many surveys that use convenience samples, which are helpful but which also have significant limitations. I would add that developing the capacity for regular surveying of nonprofits would be a nice supplement to the one-shot surveys that are currently the norm.

Improving policy-relevant data on nonprofits will undoubtedly require some additional funding, and nonprofit researchers and leaders must continue to advocate for increased support from foundations, government, and other sources for high-priority, policy research. At the same time, research can advance by drawing on governmental and other databases that already exist but which contain nonprofit data that is not regularly analyzed. In terms of federal government data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Census Bureau, and other agencies already collect nonprofit data that are not fully utilized. The federal government should partner with nonprofit researchers and leaders to ensure that these data sources are accessible for studies and commentaries like the ones in this issue and others that are needed to shed light on the still too obscure nonprofit sector.

Corresponding author: Alan J. Abramson, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, Arlington, VA, 22201, USA, E-mail:

Funding source: ARNOVA and Independent Sector

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Jeffrey Moore and Allison Grayson of Independent Sector and other staff at Independent Sector and ARNOVA for their great help in organizing the 2019 Nonprofit Policy Symposium.


Independent, Sector. 2020. Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector. Washington, DC: Independent Sector.∼:text=Nonprofits%20provide%20a%20significant%20portion,over%20the%20past%20150%20years (accessed November 14, 2020).

Citation: Abramson, Alan J.. “Strengthening the U.S. Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy: Policy Proposals from the 2019 ARNOVA-Independent Sector Symposium on Nonprofit Public Policy Research” Nonprofit Policy Forum, vol. 11, no. 4, 2020, pp. 20200058.

Editor’s Note to Issue 9(3)

Dennis R. Young 

From the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum

This special issue of Nonprofit Policy Forum is devoted to gauging the vitality of the nonprofit sector in the U.S. by developing a nonprofit sector “health index”. As explained by our guest editors Alan J. Abramson, Allison Grayson and Jeffrey Moore in their introductory essay, the papers here are “policy briefs” that conceptualize and explore various possible approaches to the construction of such an index. They derive from a competitive call for papers by ARNOVA and Independent Sector in 2017. The authors of these papers presented their initial drafts at the annual 2017 conferences of these associations, after which the papers were subject to NPF’s normal review process.

Like four blind men trying to identify an elephant by touching its different parts, the authors here examine four different aspects and possible approaches to the challenge of constructing a measure, or set of measures, of nonprofit sector health. One paper explores how the political culture of a state may signal the health of the sector within that jurisdiction; a second paper explores how assessment of social capital may lead to useful indicators of nonprofit sector health; and a third paper expands more broadly on the notion of capital by developing a “capacities” approach to account for multiple types of nonprofit sector capital – human, economic, and social. A fourth paper, drawing on previous research on a national index for the arts, views a nonprofit sector health index as a tool to inform public policy. Together, these very thoughtful papers just manage to scratch the hide of a very large but important conceptual elephant, leaving much more to be discovered under the skin. In the longer term we hope that efforts such as these will stimulate significant follow up research and development so that society can ultimately gauge the performance and vitality of the nonprofit sector with the same kind of robust measurements now available to policymakers for evaluating and managing the business and government sectors.

The feature section in this issue is a review by Robert Fischer of the newly published second edition of the Handbook of Research on Nonprofit Economics and Management. We are grateful to Prof. Fischer for his overview of this fairly massive work, which summarizes the state of current research knowledge on multiple aspects of nonprofit operation relevant to public policy, including finance, taxation, regulation, market behavior, governance, social impacts, and performance assessment.

Finally, please take note of a few administrative items of interest. First, I am pleased to recognize Robert Fischer as a new member of NPF’s editorial board. Fischer is affiliated with one of our financial sponsors, The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences of Case Western Reserve University. Second, I am pleased to announce that ARNOVA has assumed responsibility for financial administration of Nonprofit Policy Forum, helping us to manage the financial sponsorships that sustain the open access policy of this journal. ARNOVA is itself also a financial sponsor of NPF, along with the Urban Institute, the Humphrey School of the University of Minnesota, and the Stockholm Center for Civil Society Studies. We are grateful to all of our sponsors, as well as to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, for support that has allowed us to maintain operation as an open access journal these past three years. The ongoing challenge is to sustain and expand this support so that NPF can be freely available to students, scholars, nonprofit sector leaders and public officials worldwide, without interruption and without the authors’ fees imposed by some other open access journals. To inquire about the benefits and responsibilities for your institution to become a financial sponsor of Nonprofit Policy Forum please contact me at

Please enjoy this new issue of our journal and feel free to send us your comments on the contents herein. Thank you.

Dennis R. Young

Editor, Nonprofit Policy Forum

November 2018

Citation:Young, Dennis R.. “Editor’s Note to Issue 9(3)” Nonprofit Policy Forum, vol. 9, no. 3, 2018, pp. 20180045.

Editor’s Note

Dennis R. Young 

From the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum

Welcome to this special issue of policy briefs derived from papers presented in the 2016 ARNOVA Symposium on Public Policy for Nonprofits. The symposium was held on November 15, 2016 in Washington DC and featured five papers competitively selected through an RFP process by an ARNOVA committee led by Rachel Laforest and Steven R. Smith, the special editors of this issue.

This is the second year for which Nonprofit Policy Forum has had the privilege of publishing the papers of the annual ARNOVA public policy symposium. We appreciate the opportunity and look forward to a continuing productive relationship with ARNOVA in the future. The concept of a policy brief as employed here is rather broad, but in essence it connotes a work in progress which reflects the policy relevance of a path breaking research project. As manifested in this issue, policy briefs offer several benefits to the worlds of nonprofit policy research and practice. Several of the papers here offer new methodological approaches to the analysis of nonprofit-related policy issues, including applications of network analysis to collaborative policymaking, spatial analysis to understand the role of organizational mobility in the effectiveness of public service contracting, and a new framework for “smart partnerships” between government and nonprofit organizations. Other papers more directly address what we know about key nonprofit policy issues and how we might better approach them; one paper applies new research to the problem of funding nonprofit overhead expenses while another considers how state regulations influence the fundraising effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.

Laforest and Smith, the special editors of this issue, provide an integrative perspective on these papers in their overview essay at the front of this issue. We are grateful to them as well as the authors of the briefs that follow for their incisive contributions: Judith Saidel, Julia Carboni, Saba Siddiqui, Chris Koski and Abdul-Akeem Sadiq, Brent Never and Drew Westberg, Nancy Berlin, Jan Masaoka and Mary Jo Schumann, and Nathan Dietz, Putnam Barber, Cindy Lott and Mary Shelly.

Finally, the feature in this issue is a book review by Benjamin Gidron, one of NPF’s associate editors, of The Social Enterprise Zoo, edited by myself, Elizabeth Searing and Cassady Brewer. I am grateful to Prof. Gidron for taking on this assignment, not so much for the positive review as his willingness to offer a critical and independent assessment of a book that I think is important to policy making in the social enterprise field but for which I cannot be objective.

Please enjoy the issue!

Citation: Young, Dennis R.. “Editor’s Note” Nonprofit Policy Forum, vol. 8, no. 2, 2017, pp. 115-116.

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