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Shaping the Future of Nonprofit Data

By Lee Ivory

NPD Projects Notes

Notes line the wall from the symposium, held at American University from June 27-28, 2015.

The School of Public Affairs (SPA) recently brought together an engaged group of scholars from the United States and around the world to explore better ways to collect and use data from nonprofits.

SPA Professor Lewis Faulk and the Urban Institute’s Teresa Derrick-Mills co-hosted the June 27-28 meeting – called Shaping the Future of Nonprofit Data (NPD) Symposium. It was sponsored by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, SPA and the Metropolitan Policy Center at American University.

Faulk said 40 institutions were represented at the meeting, which featured a diverse mix of participants - senior scholars, junior scholars, Ph.D. students and other students.

Faulk explained that most data in the United States is collected via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but the tax forms don’t include information on many factors that influence nonprofits - such as why they grow or shrink over time, how they respond to emerging public problems or specific ways they relate to businesses, other nonprofits and government.

“The purpose of the symposium was to tap into the collective knowledge of researchers around the country who have an interest in improving the types of data collected on the nonprofit sector, begin to build a collaborative learning community and generate ideas on how to make this new source of data a reality,” he said.

Faulk went to say that the symposium was very successful and that discussions there generated a number of ideas about how to structure data-collection efforts, strategies for the scholars to work together and thoughts about how to engage stakeholders.

Faulk said that he has received a faculty research grant from the Metropolitan Policy Center in SPA (with AU sociology professor Mike Bader) to test some of the ideas from the NPD in a pilot survey project in Washington, D.C., in 2015-2016.

The symposium was co-hosted with the Urban Institute, he said.

Faulk said the idea for the NPD project was spearheaded by Derrick-Mills and other researchers at the Urban Institute.

“The partnership between AU-SPA and the Urban Institute is bringing the NPD to a reality,” Faulk said. “We came away with a clear indication that the research community has the capacity and inclination to propel this project forward.”