Nonprofits are effective, responsive, reliable, caring, enriching, empowering and productive. That’s what leaders at 731 nonprofits think, anyway.
According to a new report from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS), these attributes are what make the sector special. The study, called “What Do Nonprofits Stand For?,” is a part of the Johns Hopkins Listening Post project, a collaboration between the CCSS and 11 nonprofits. The study received responses from 731 organizations across the U.S., ranging from organizations with less than $500,000 in revenue to those with more than $3 million.
For both effective and responsive, 99 percent of respondents rated the qualities as “very important” or “important.” Reliable as a response came in at 98 percent, caring at 96 percent and enriching at 94 percent. Rounding out the field, empowering at 88 percent and productive at 87 percent, which just 52 percent of respondents said was very important.
Of particular concern to the study’s authors was the perception of that final value, productivity. Nonprofits employ 10 percent of the American work force and generate $1.7 trillion in revenue, according to the study. “Understanding and highlighting this economic contribution of nonprofits in their communities and nationwide is increasingly important to the sector’s ability to retain its public support and legitimacy,” wrote the authors.
Respondents said they believe their organizations embodied these values to varying degrees. Overall, 80 percent of the respondents think their organizations embodied at least five attributes well or very well. Effective and responsive garnered the most “well” and “very well” responses, at 94 percent each. Reliable came in with 93 percent, enriching at 90 percent and caring at 84 percent.
There was a drop-off for the final two; only 67 percent of respondents responded that their organizations embodied the empowering aspect well or very well, and 58 percent said the same about productive.
Members of the sector far and away believe nonprofits exemplify these values better than government. Two-thirds believe that nonprofits are more reliable than the government, and the numbers go up from there, topping out at 89 percent for caring and enriching, and 88 percent for responsive.
There was much more debate on whether the values are better exemplified by the for-profit sector or the nonprofit sector. Respondents thought that nonprofits exemplified the traits of caring, enriching and empowering better than for-profits, but for the rest of the values, more thought that the two industries were equal. Some 44 percent said for-profits and nonprofits were equally responsive, 55 percent said they were equally reliable, 64 percent said they were equally effective, and 53 percent said they were equally productive. Exactly one-third of the respondents said that the for-profit sector was more productive than the nonprofit sector.
The respondents also believed that nonprofits were doing an inadequate job of communicating their industry’s special qualities. More than half said that both the general public and government officials did not understand how nonprofits exemplified the seven values, and more than one-third said that the media and grantmakers didn’t either.
More than three-quarters of respondents, or 78 percent, said communicating these values was crucial in generating community support, and 62 percent said it was necessary for satisfying organizational funders. More than half said it communicating the values was part of their missions. Fully 97 percent said highlighting the core values was either important or very important.