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(Thank you to Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute for providing this information)

Highlights, Financial and People Investment into Nonprofit Organizations

  • Approximately 1.56 million nonprofits were registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2015, an increase of 10.4 percent from 2005.

  • The nonprofit sector contributed an estimated $985.4 billion to the US economy in 2015, composing 5.4 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).[1]

  • Of the nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS, 501(c)(3) public charities accounted for just over three-quarters of revenue and expenses for the nonprofit sector as a whole ($1.98 trillion and $1.84 trillion, respectively) and just under two-thirds of the nonprofit sector's total assets ($3.67 trillion).

  • In 2017, total private giving from individuals, foundations, and businesses totaled $410.02 billion (Giving USA Foundation 2018), an increase of 3 percent from 2016 (after adjusting for inflation). According to Giving USA (2018) total charitable giving rose for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, making 2017 the largest single-year for private charitable giving, even after adjusting for inflation.

  • An estimated 25.1 percent of US adults volunteered in 2017, contributing an estimated 8.8 billion hours. This is a 1.6 percent increase from 2016. The value of these hours is approximately $195.0 billion.

All Nonprofit Organizations


From 2005 to 2015, the number of nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS rose from 1.41 million to 1.56 million, an increase of 10.4 percent. These 1.56 million organizations comprise a diverse range of nonprofits, including art, health, education, and advocacy nonprofits; labor unions; and business and professional associations. This broad-spectrum, however, only includes registered nonprofit organizations; the total number of nonprofit organizations operating in the United States is unknown. Religious congregations and organizations with less than $5,000 in gross receipts are not required to register with the IRS, although many do.[2] These unregistered organizations expand the scope of the nonprofit sector beyond the 1.56 million organizations this brief focuses on.


Approximately 34 percent of nonprofits registered with the IRS in 2015 were required to file a Form 990, Form 990-EZ, or Form 990-PF.[3] These reporting nonprofits identified $2.54 trillion in revenues and $5.79 trillion in assets (table 1).[4] Between 2005 and 2015, reporting nonprofits experienced positive financial growth. Both revenues and assets grew faster than GDP; after adjusting for inflation revenues grew 28.4 percent and assets grew 36.2 percent, compared with 13.6 percent growth for national GDP during the same period. Expenses grew 31.8 percent between2005 and 2015. In the short term, after adjusting for inflation, revenues grew 4.1 percent from $ 2.44 trillion in 2014 to $2.54 in 2015; assets increased 3.2 percent from $5.61 trillion to $5.79. Expenses also grew from $2.25 trillion in 2014 to $2.36 in 2015, an increase of 5 percent.

Public Charities


Public charities are the largest category of the more than 30 types of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations defined by the Internal Revenue Code. Classified under section 501(c)(3) (along with private foundations), public charities include arts, culture, and humanities organizations; education organizations; health care organizations; human services organizations; and other types of organizations to which donors can make tax-deductible donations. In 2015, about 1.09 million organizations were classified as public charities, composing about two-thirds of all registered nonprofits. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of public charities grew 28.4 percent, faster than the growth of all registered nonprofits (10.4 percent). The number of registered public charities also grew faster than other nonprofit subgroups during the decade, including private foundations, which grew by only 0.1 percent, and 501(c)(4) organizations, which declined 28 percent. Consequently, public charities made up a larger share of the nonprofit sector in 2015 (69.7 percent) than in 2005 (60 percent).

The number of reporting public charities required to file a Form 990 or Form 990-EZ grew slightly between 2014 and 2015, showing an increase of 2.2 percent.


Almost three-fifths (59.3 percent) of all nonprofit organizations reporting to the IRS in 2015 were public charities. Accounting for more than three-quarters of revenue and expenses for the nonprofit sector, public charities reported $1.98 trillion in revenues and $1.84 trillion in expenses. Assets held by public charities accounted for just under two-thirds of the sector's total ($3.67 trillion).


Even after excluding organizations with gross receipts below the $50,000 filing threshold, small organizations composed the majority of public charities in 2015. As shown in figure 1 below, 66.9 percent had less than $500,000 in expenses (210,670 organizations); they composed less than 2 percent of total public charity expenditures ($32.3 billion). Though organizations with $10 million or more included just 5.3 percent of total public charities (16,556 organizations), they accounted for 87.7 percent of public charity expenditures ($1.6 trillion).

Number of Volunteers

An estimated 25.1 adults, NA percent of the population volunteered at least once in 2017. The highest volunteer rate reported in the decade spanning from 2008 to 2017 was NA percent, which was reported in 2009 and 2011. The lowest volunteer rate was reported in 2015: NA percent.

The percentage of the population volunteering on a given day increased slightly in 2017, rising to -- percent from -- percent in 2016. This rise occurs after 2016 saw the lowest proportion of the population volunteering on an average day within the previous 10 years: however, the NA people volunteering on a given day represents an increase of over 1 million daily volunteers from 2016. In the past decade, the highest proportion of Americans volunteering on a given day was in 2009, when 52 percent of the population volunteered (NA people).

Hours Volunteered

Americans volunteered an estimated 64.4 hours in 2017, a slight increase from 63.9 hours in 2016. This amounts to about 8.8 hours per volunteer, slightly more than in 2016.

Volunteer Activities

The largest use of volunteer hours in 2017 was on social service and care activities (22 percent). These activities include such tasks as preparing food, collecting and delivering clothing or other goods, providing care, and teaching, counseling, or mentoring. Administrative and support activities made up the next-largest proportion of volunteer time (24.8 percent); this category includes things like computer use, telephone calls (except hotline counseling), writing, fundraising, and the like. These two categories of activities also led volunteer hours in 2016, although the proportion of time spent in social service and care activities has decreased slightly (from 23.5 percent) while the proportion of time spent in social administrative and support activities increased slightly (from 25.3 percent). Volunteers spent a larger proportion of their time in performing or cultural activities and meetings, conferences, and training in 2017 than in 2016, while they spent less time in maintenance, building, and cleanup activities.


In 2015, public charities composed over two-thirds of all registered nonprofit organizations and accounted for over three-quarters of the revenue and expenses of the nonprofit sector in the United States. While the nonprofit sector as a whole did see steady financial growth even throughout the heart of the recent recession (with revenue, expenses, and assets all growing more than 15 percent during those years), the recession impacted the various sub-sectors differently. Arts organizations and public and social benefit organizations both saw slight downturns in revenue between 2005 and 2010; on the other hand, health organizations experienced above-average nonprofit growth during those years. However, from 2010 to 2015, all nonprofit sectors experienced renewed growth: revenue growth has outpaced the growth in expenses (20.6 percent compared with 16.6 percent, respectively) while assets have also grown considerably (26.3 percent).

Private charitable giving has also increased for several straight years (since 2014), even after adjusting for inflation: 2017's peak of $410.02 billion is the largest single-year contribution total reported on file and is the first time annual charitable giving has exceeded $400 billion. The total number of volunteers also increased in 2017 to an estimated NA percent of the US adult population. The share of the population volunteering on any given day also rose to -- percent, a rebound from 2016, which had the lowest proportion of the population volunteering within the past 10 years (--). Volunteers contributed an estimated 64.4 hours in 2017.


Brice McKeever is a research associate in the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, where he performs quantitative social science research across a wide spectrum of public policy initiatives related to the nonprofit sector, civic participation, and the impact of technology on social interaction. He is the lead author of The Nonprofit Almanac: Ninth Edition and multiple research reports related to nonprofit-sector growth and diversity.

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