NFF Survey: Nonprofits Are Challenged, Creative, Unwavering

May 9, 2018

Data from Thousands Show Forward Motion Despite Chronic and Real-Time Concerns

NEW YORK, May 9, 2018 – In the face of chronic challenges intensified by deep concerns about real-time developments, nonprofit leaders are expanding programs and hiring staff, according to the Nonprofit Finance Fund State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey published today.

“These data reaffirm the unflagging dedication of nonprofit leaders, who continue to pursue new ways to more effectively support more people and communities,” said Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). “That said, we are also hearing intense worry among nonprofit leaders on behalf of the people they serve.”

The 2018 Survey raises the voices of almost 3,400 leaders of nonprofits across all 50 states and a wide range of sizes, missions, and work areas. Among its key findings:

  • Demand continues to rise faster than nonprofits’ ability to meet it.
    • 86 percent of respondents say demand for their services is rising
    • 57 percent say they don’t think they can meet it; 65 percent among nonprofits who serve low-income communities
    • Nonprofits’ top challenges continue to be achieving financial sustainability (62 percent), raising funding to cover full costs (57 percent) and unrestricted revenue (46 percent), and offering competitive pay (66 percent)
      • 59 percent also cite employing enough hands to do all the work
  • Nonprofits are moving forward with determination and creativity.
    • 54 percent increased staff and 55 percent increased compensation in 2017
    • 63 percent plan to expand their programs or services
    • 68 percent are collaborating with other nonprofits; 60 percent plan to increase the diversity of their leadership and/or staff; 45 percent will develop a succession plan; 38 percent will invest in impact measurement software; 37 percent will engage more formally in advocacy/policy
    • “We are resilient, and we are not subpar to for-profit organizations,” said a Survey respondent who leads a human services nonprofit in Washington. “In fact, we are typically more complex and harder to manage than a for-profit entity and we should be sought after for our best practices rather than being subjected to ‘bizsplaining.’”
  • Nonprofit leaders voice intense worry on behalf of the people they serve.
    • 40 percent cite affordable housing as a top client need
      • Next most-cited top critical needs were youth programs (24 percent), mental and behavioral health services (22 percent), financial capability (21 percent)
    • 67 percent say the federal government has made life harder for their clients
    • “The uncertainty and lack of leadership, coupled with policies that tend to blame being poor on the poor, make our job increasingly more difficult,” said a Survey respondent who leads a health nonprofit serving rural North Carolina.

“Constructive dialogue on how nonprofits are facing challenges and planning for sustainable futures is essential to move the dial on community issues,” said Kerry Sullivan, President of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which has supported NFF’s Survey since 2010. “The Survey findings can help further inform funder-nonprofit conversations on strategic support.”

Results from the 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey reflect responses by 3,369 nonprofit leaders whose organizations work in 20-plus focus areas and all 50 states, and range in size from $50,000 to more than $20 million. Data were collected online in January and February. The Survey, NFF’s eighth, again asked about organizations’ basic financial and operational health; this year, new questions also aimed to capture quantitative and qualitative data about real-time developments and concerns. For example, in a year when events tore open the country’s racial divides, NFF asked about nonprofits’ leadership diversity and their focus on racial inequity. Visit to learn more.

NFF shares data and analyses from the State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey widely to support nonprofits, funders, advocates, researchers, and many others. Visit to dig into the data and customize and download graphs, and email [email protected] for other analyses or historical data.

In addition to the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the 2018 Survey was also generously supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, BKD CPAs & Advisors, and Asian Pacific Community Fund.

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