Nonprofit Growth and Trends

Peter Orszag at Bloomberg wrote an interesting article about the growth of nonprofit organizations from 2008 onwards. One study cited was done by Nonprofit HR Solutions, entitled “Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey.”

The article and the survey both painted an optimistic picture about nonprofit organizations post-millennium. They were viewed as a source of jobs and growth (nearly 5% of GDP according to Mr. Orszag) in contrast to the for-profit sector which has contracted, according to a study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

One key finding of the Nonprofit HR Solutions study was that nonprofits are continuing to grow and expand with no signs of slowing down. A full 40+% of institutions plan to add positions in the upcoming year, an upwards trend from the 33% in 2011.

Another interesting observation is that nonprofits may be facing a leadership vacuum. As one generation heads for retirement, plans for succession are not clearly developed. Whether or not this affects organizational stability remains to be seen, as nonprofit growth may attract qualified individuals needed as the for-profit sector continues to contract.

According to the survey, many nonprofits are ill prepared to deal with turnover, particularly in leadership positions. They have not developed succession plans or implemented measures to prevent key employees with needed knowledge, skills, or qualifications from leaving – either laterally to another nonprofit or to the for-profit sector or to government employment. A lack of a retention strategy could, in theory, lead to a brain drain or a boom-bust phenomenon where growth sectors lack the knowledge needed most as the lucrative lure of the private sector exacerbates the problem at precisely the wrong time.

Nonprofits, according to the survey, continue to explore social networking sites as a recruitment tool. Although non-traditional, such sites like Facebook and LinkedIn offer inexpensive, almost ubiquitous tools. There is also potential for growth in this sector, as it relates to another survey finding: the difficulty of attracting and retaining employees in the under-30 demographic.

As job markets in the for-profit sector contract, candidates who might have otherwise never considered a job in the non-profit sector take positions at these institutions. This creates a benefit for these non-profits in that they have a larger applicant pool to choose from. Due to corporate cost-cutting and austerity measures, the phenomenon is not limited to entry-level jobs but encompasses all levels of seniority.

Ironically, the success of nonprofit organizations may ultimately lead to a darker spot on the horizon. As Mr. Orszag points out, some politicians question whether tax-exempt status gives nonprofit organizations an unfair advantage over for-profit businesses that offer similar services. Although some nonprofits provide the same or similar services that are also provided by for-profit businesses (hospitals are an example that often comes to mind), many tax exempt organizations satisfy needs that would go entirely unmet if left to the private sector. Regardless of one’s political views, it is an area to watch in future discussions of tax reform.

Despite some uncertainties, if nonprofits can continue to expand, retain, and plan for leadership transitions, the future is bright indeed.

If your nonprofit organization is in need of legal advice, please feel free to contact us using the form on this page. For 501(c)(3) organizations, we currently offer discounts from our standard hourly rates.


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