Challenges in Assessing the Scope and Dynamics of the Nonprofit Sector
Keywords: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.
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