The Nonprofit Phenomenon: Internet Resources for Nonprofit Organizations

By Cameron, Hazel | Searcher, February 2004 | Go to article overview

The Nonprofit Phenomenon: Internet Resources for Nonprofit Organizations


Cameron, Hazel, Searcher


Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) play an increasingly important role in U.S. society. NPOs currently number over 1 million and employ close to 11 million people, or about 7 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. This number does not include the additional 5.7 million people who volunteer at nonprofit organizations (1). The sharp increase in the numbers of nonprofit organizations has led in turn to their increased visibility in society. Between 1987 and 1998, the number of nonprofits increased at an annual rate of 5.1 percent, more than double the rate for the business sector (2).

Nonprofits are also contributing more to the economic growth of the U.S. Between 1977 and 1997, the revenues of nonprofits increased by 144 percent (after adjusting for inflation). This amounts to nearly twice the 81 percent growth rate of the nation as a whole (3). In other words, NPOs now exercise enormous spending power and have become a far greater force in the economy, offering more jobs than ever before and having more money to spend. Businesses now target NPOs as potential customers.

So, more and more people want information about nonprofit organizations. This guide will help provide some background information on nonprofits, focusing especially on charities. It will also examine the sources of information available free of charge on the Internet. It will focus on high-quality sites that provide current general or specific information about nonprofits in the U.S. or links to this type of resource, rather than concentrating on sites with general management information suitable for nonprofits or those focused solely on fundraising, philanthropy, or grants. This study emphasizes frequently updated portals or gateways providing a wide array of evaluated and abstracted resources viewable in full text, rather than those simply listing resources.

Who Are the Nonprofits?

There are many terms used to describe nonprofit organizations--independent, third sector, voluntary, charitable, philanthropic, social, public benefit, or tax exempt sector (4). Outside the U.S., nonprofits are often dubbed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or civil society organizations (5). Nonprofits are neither government nor business organizations, but privately held organizations governed by a voluntary board of directors. Nonprofits come in various shapes and sizes, but are concentrated primarily in health, education, and social services. All nonprofits work toward some cause that will benefit the public.

To gauge the scope of nonprofits, consult the variety of directories that list nonprofit organizations on the Internet. The largest of these is Guidestar [http://www.guidestar.org], which provides a database of over 850,000 U.S. nonprofit, IRS-recognized organizations. Listings include address, contact information, description, mission, and financial information that often appears in graphical format. Information from Guidestar's database comes from the Form 990 submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, supplemented in some cases by information provided by the listed organizations themselves. All nonreligious nonprofits with revenues greater than or equal to $25,000 must file Form 990% with the IRS, which amounts to less than half of nonprofits (6). Nevertheless, it is an excellent source for larger nonprofits.

America's Charities [http://www.charities.org], on the other hand, is a searchable directory of its charity members. Not as large nor as comprehensive as Guidestar, this database is more useful in finding smaller charities because some of its members make less than $25,000 year. This directory allows the user to search for a nonprofit by keyword. Information retrieved includes the contact numbers, addresses, and company profiles, as well as missions or descriptions of what they do. No financial information is given, however.

The NonProfit Times 100 Biggest Nonprofits [http://www.nptimes.com/] directory can also prove helpful. …

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