Using data to support change. This is one of the ways Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) supports thousands of nonprofits each year with its State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey. As one of the largest nonprofit data gathering efforts in the sector, NFF's annual survey aggregates their stories into a collective data set that is used by nonprofits, advocates, funders, and reporters to understand the needs and challenges of the sector.

Consider these findings from last year's survey of 5,019 nonprofits:

  • 80% of respondents reported an increase in demand for services, the sixth straight year of increase in demand
  • 56% were unable to meet demand in 2013 - the highest reported in the survey's history
  • 86% expect demand to climb again in 2014, and 58% expect demand to go unmet

We couldn't tell these stories without the participation of the thousands of nonprofit leaders who have contributed every year. In this blog post, we want to share with you the underlying mission driving our Survey activities, and why it matters to the sector. Overall, NFF has a three-part mission with the survey. These three aspirations drive all activities, from the development of survey content, to outreach, to how and when we communicate our results.

To provide stakeholders and the public with timely data on trends, challenges, opportunities, and actions in the nonprofit sector

NFF's survey is open at the same time every year, from mid-January to mid/late February. Once the survey is closed, we work as fast as we can to share the results, to ensure that stakeholders have timely access to the data. Our initial results are released no later than the first week of May every year, and often earlier.

To coalesce the nonprofit sector into a data-driven community organizing effort, creating a collective voice and spurring the use of data for change

Because of the nonprofit sector's diversity -- in mission, size, business model, geography, and a multitude of other factors -- it operates in a decentralized way. Yet we believe that coming together in a collective effort can help magnify what we DO have in common.

That's why we work with hundreds of partners -- nonprofit associations, funders, advocates, umbrella organizations, and more -- to get the word out to as many pockets of nonprofit communities as we can. If your region or sector is under-represented in the survey results, please reach out to us for advice on how to spread the word.

Data is only as good as how -- and if -- it's used. That's why we don't simply release the results and return to business as usual. After release, our staff spends the next seven months of the year integrating the findings into their daily practices, communicating the results through presentations, and sharing them as widely as possible. We also talk about the results with advocates, government officials, funders, nonprofits, and other practitioners in the field, diving deeper into ways that the data can be used in practice. Here are two examples:

  • The National Council of Nonprofits used the data to inform government policy recommendations on the treatment of indirect costs.
  • Grantmakers can use this dataset to remain responsive to the needs of nonprofits in real time and refine their philanthropic investment strategies.

To provide accessible, data-driven insights that informs discussion and, ultimately, improves social sector practices


We work hard to make the data as accessible as we can. As requests for data increased over time, we looked for ways to make it even more accessible. That's why we created the NFF Survey Analyzer, an open tool that allows anyone to filter the data to see results that are most relevant to them. You can filter the whole data set to look at state specific results, and much more. If you have any questions about the Analyzer, please contact us at [email protected].

Take 10 minutes to share your organization's story in this survey anytime before Feb. 18, when the survey closes. The results are anonymous, and the final report is shared with funders, advocates, and news outlets all over the country. Share your story and strengthen our sector today!

ANJALI DESHMUKH is the Director of Knowledge & Communications at Nonprofit Finance Fund. She is responsible for writing, editing, graphic design, and project management for NFF's public media, including research reports, articles, blogs, and marketing documents.

Founded in 1980, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) helps organizations connect money to mission effectively and supports innovations such as growth capital campaigns, cross-sector economic recovery initiatives, and impact investing. To learn more about NFF, visit

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