As nonprofit leaders, we have a responsibility to show the country what’s working and what’s at stake on the frontlines of America’s most vulnerable communities. But social-sector hard data is sparse at best, and real-time data is even rarer. The longer our sector remains an outlier in a data-driven world, the greater the opportunity cost—and the greater the risk that others will inappropriately use what numbers there are to justify budget cuts and other misguided decisions.
We all know that building a strong nonprofit-sector evidence base is no small challenge—it will require changing mindsets, systems, funding practices. And much of our sector’s most important impact comes in ways that aren’t easily measured. But this can and must be done, and we can all do our part to help.
Nonprofit leaders: Set aside just 25 minutes between Jan. 17 and Feb. 21 to fill out NFF’s State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, at this link.
NFF’s Survey is the largest national sampling of our sector, capturing information about the financial and operational health and challenges of nonprofits across the United States. The Survey is also a powerful platform, collecting and raising the voices of nonprofits large and small, urban and rural, across sub-sectors and geographies, identifying and communicating our sector’s most critical needs. Survey findings are widely used and cited by nonprofit leaders and boards, funders, advocates, policy advisors, media, researchers, and many others. Community foundations use our Survey data to understand the financial condition of the nonprofits they fund. Advocates use it in Capitol Hill testimony and budget discussions.
When we launched the Survey in 2009, economic crisis threatened the viability of many organizations. By our last Survey in 2015, the US economic recovery was well underway—but we saw that vulnerable communities were going without because nonprofits couldn’t meet increasing demand. Nonprofit leaders reported persistent worries about succession planning, workforce retention, and financial sustainability. Fewer than half ended the previous year with a surplus, and more than half said they had three months or less of cash-on-hand. As one leader said: “Although we manage to keep our financial heads above water—our greatest challenge is the uncertainty and constancy of operating on such a knife edge.”
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How does the world look to you today? We’re hearing anecdotally that, for many, the knife edge feels even thinner.
This year’s Survey will again capture quantitative and qualitative financial and operational data to build and share the most robust picture possible. It will also capture nonprofit leaders’ perspectives on their funding and policy environments as we enter the Trump Administration’s second year. Once the results are in, we make the cleaned data and its stories publicly available (and filterable) free of charge via our website and publications, to support research, advocacy, budgeting, planning, grantmaking—and to drive evidence-based conversations with decision-makers.
You don’t even have to do all 25 minutes in one go—you can pause and come back to the Survey any time before Feb. 21. But whether you pause or not, please make absolutely sure to go all the way through the questions and hit “submit” so that your voice, and your organization’s story, can be heard. Now more than ever, the country needs to know what's at stake.
NFF proudly partners with GuideStar and many other organizations to raise the voices of nonprofit leaders nationwide, and to build and share a solid database for the social sector.
Antony Bugg-Levine is CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, which advances missions and social progress through financing, consulting, partnerships, and knowledge-sharing. Connect with Antony @ABLImpact and on LinkedIn.