Challenges in Assessing the Scope and Dynamics of the Nonprofit Sector


  • Tania L. Hernandez Ortiz Arizona State University
  • Mark A. Hager Arizona State University



Community Ecology, IRS Records, Administrative Data


How many nonprofits operate in your community? How many closed during the pandemic? These questions are not as easy to answer as you might think. Production of demographic data for the nonprofit sector has been a challenge for nonprofit researchers. Scholars frequently rely on administrative records, but they sometimes make leaps without evaluating the shortcomings of their data. Our exploration documents the challenges researchers should confront when they seek to produce accurate demographics of the nonprofit sector. We compare administrative records and lists (core files, full Form 990 digitized, Business Master Files) with online footprints (news, websites, state records) to account for the variety of ways that living organizations get mislabeled as dissolved. We urge researchers to approach administrative lists critically when using them to paint pictures of community ecology.

Author Biographies

  • Tania L. Hernandez Ortiz, Arizona State University

    Tania L. Hernandez Ortiz is a Research Data Analyst at Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI). She received her PhD in Community Resources and Development from Arizona State University. She conducts research on organizational behavior of nonprofits in the U.S. and Mexico ([email protected]).

  • Mark A. Hager, Arizona State University

    Mark Hager is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, where he spent 14 years studying and teaching about management of nonprofit organizations. His first study in the field focused on closure of nonprofit organizations, so he has spent a quarter century considering how best to monitor their fates. This article provides an opportunity to lay out some of his long view and core musings on the topic ([email protected]).






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