Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit Data Project Mission and Goals

June 30, 2016  • Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation


The members of the Nonprofit Data Project group work with government to improve the quality, timeliness, accessibility and efficiency of our nation’s nonprofit data collection system. Issues include:

Form 990 Activity

In recent years, a major focus of the project has been the Form 990.  The Form 990 is considered to be one of the best sources of information on the US nonprofit sector; however, timely and open access to the data remains a major problem.

To better understand the Form 990 system and identify potential improvements, the Nonprofit Data Project launched a special research project on the Form 990 system, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The RESEARCH STUDY,Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data, by open data experts Beth Noveck and Daniel Goroff, was released at a January 2013 convening at the Aspen Institute.

Information for Impact has served as a major catalyst in the area of open, nonprofit data, breathing new life into the debate on electronic filing of the Form 990, and encouraging new thinking among data providers.  Soon after the release of this seminal work, a number of developments took place, vastly improving the policy environment for open nonprofit data.

For more information about the Form 990, take a look at our FACT SHEET.

Nonprofit Employment and Wage Data

After a concerted, multi-year effort by the Nonprofit Data Project, with Johns Hopkins University taking the lead on methodology, in October 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released employment and wage research on the nonprofit sector,  providing critical information on the size and scope of this major segment of U.S. society and the economy. The data show that nonprofits comprise over 10% of private sector employment.

In the webinar releasing the data, BLS thanked the Aspen Institute for “actively pushing BLS” to release the data.  Johns Hopkins University deserves much credit for developing an innovative methodology that BLS adapted to attain the information and the Urban Institute also provided assistance and guidance.

Following the release of the research, the Nonprofit Data Project conducted an outreach campaign to encourage nonprofit researchers, leaders and others to SUBMIT COMMENTS urging BLS to release nonprofit employment information annually, and to expand the data to the county-and Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)-level.

Federal Spending Data on the Nonprofit Sector

In the spring 2014, the DATA Act was passed, providing an opportunity to greatly improve the system used by the United States Government to track federal spending, including federal spending on the nonprofit sector.  To take advantage of this opportunity, the Nonprofit Data Project has reached out to both Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), holding meetings with officials in both agencies, along with members of the Nonprofit Data Project.

One of the data project’s key recommendations is to use a simple validation technique to accurately identify nonprofit federal award recipients on the website WWW.USASPENDING.GOV. This recommendation is consistent with the 2009 GAO REPORTNonprofit Sector Significant Federal Funds Reach the Sector through Various Mechanisms, but More Complete and Reliable Funding Data Are Needed.