THE BLOG
03/22/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated May 22, 2013

Nonprofit Trends: Fastest Growing Sector?

In my initial post of this year, I noted that there are shifts occurring today in how nonprofits are being viewed. To be clear, I meant this as a good thing, that nonprofits are capturing a growing part of the public consciousness. Certainly, the debate about the charitable deduction has helped with this, increasing people's awareness of the role of nonprofits in our lives.

Although I grew up with nonprofit organizations around me, I wasn't always clear about the collective reach and impact of the sector itself. Over the past seven years, as the CEO of a company that only serves nonprofits, I have not only learned, but also developed an incredible respect for the value the sector accounts for in our society and economy.

As the grandson of a woman who was passionate about historic preservation, I've always understood that nonprofits - and the people committed to the causes they represent - get things done that would otherwise fall through the cracks. This is the part of the puzzle that's often the easiest to see. It's the other pieces, however, that really speak to my point on value. I'm talking about GDP and jobs.

This quote from Bloomberg late last year sums it up:

The fastest-growing part of the U.S. economy is not business, at least not the commercial kind. It's the nonprofit sector. In the past decade, the number of nonprofit groups has grown by 25 percent to 1.6 million. They now account for 5.4 percent of gross domestic product and 10 percent of jobs.

How does this compare to other sectors? Good question. According to The Nonprofit Almanac 2012 (published by The Urban Institute Press), from 2000 to 2010, employment in the nonprofit sector grew by 17 percent. And this doesn't count the 62+ million Americans who volunteered in 2012 alone. Jobs in government grew by less than half that, at 8 percent, and for-profit businesses reduced their ranks by -6 percent.

This trend is not limited to the United States. Under the direction of Lester Salamon, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies has long devoted its efforts to understanding and measuring the growth and impact of the third sector worldwide. In a comparative working paper published this month, experts found a significant nonprofit workforce in the 13 countries where data were available. Including both paid staff and volunteers, more than 7 percent of the workforce is focusing its energy on propelling nonprofits forward. This percentage puts the sector ahead of both transportation and finance. The study also found that nonprofits account for 4.5 percent of GDP across 15 countries.

This is nothing short of impressive and shows the growing impact that nonprofits are having on the world - as employers, as economic contributors as well as champions of a wide of array of causes that make sure we feed the hungry, maintain cultural roots, preserve nature, bring healthcare to the poorest of the poor...and so on.

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed. Your next job just might be at a nonprofit...

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