Only 2.98 percent of the nearly 1.3 million 501(c)(3) public charities in the United States currently lobby policy makers as a way to advance their mission, a report from the National Council of Nonprofits finds.
Based on Form 990 data from 2016, the report, Nonprofit Impact Matters: How America's Charitable Nonprofits Strengthen Communities and Improve Lives (44 pages, PDF), found that the number of registered public charities increased nearly 75 percent between 2000 and 2016; that the biggest subsector of the nonprofit sector is human services (353,909 nonprofits), followed by religion (298,227), education (184,114), and arts and culture (119,763); and that 88 percent of the organizations in the sample have annual budgets under $500,000. The report also notes that the sector is an important economic engine, employing 12.3 million people nationwide and accounting for $2 trillion in spending annually, of which more than $826 million is spent on salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes. And it further argues that nonprofits are the "building blocks of democracy" — which it defines as safe places where Americans come together to solve problems collaboratively, where community members develop leadership skills in their roles as volunteers and board members, and where nonpartisan civic engagement, including voting, is promoted.
The report highlights the challenges nonprofits face in advancing their missions, including growing public demand for their services, with 79 percent of charities reporting increased demand in 2017 and 57 percent reporting that they could not meet that demand; state and federal policy proposals that limit or eliminate charitable giving incentives or exemptions, levy new taxes or fees, or impose onerous regulatory burdens on nonprofits; the fact that fewer households are giving to charity and small and medium donors who support local social service providers are contributing less; and the continued lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sector.
The report's call to action to nonprofits focuses on four areas: protecting the public trust by adopting best practices; amplifying the power of nonprofit networks by joining state nonprofit associations; embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and advocating more aggressively for their missions and the people they serve and sharing insights with policy makers.
"We wrote the report specifically for the twelve-point-three million nonprofit employees, sixty-four million nonprofit board members and volunteers, and tens of millions of donors who support the work of nonprofits," said National Council of Nonprofits president and CEO Tim Delaney. "These dedicated people often focus so much on advancing their own nonprofit's mission that there's little time to see the trends and challenges emerging around them....We firmly believe that if a critical mass of people connected to nonprofits knew more about what nonprofits share in common and how their interests align, then nonprofits would unite and have the collective power to overcome those shared challenges and advance their particular missions even further to shape a better future for everyone."