State of the Sector Surveys

2015 SURVEY

NFF thanks the Bank of America Charitable Foundation for generously supporting the survey since 2010. This year's survey was also generously supported by the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

BAC 2015              packard 2015

In 2014, the social sector generated stories of both promising innovation and overwhelming challenges. In fundraising, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised over $100 million from 3 million donors, reminded us of the power of individual giving and the underutilized potential of social media. In the same year, New York City’s largest human services agency reached the brink of bankruptcy after providing essential services for 80 years. Over 100,000 clients are suddenly facing a disruption in services, coming to the end of what was for many a decades-long relationship with the agency.

NFF’s 2015 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey focuses on the underlying causes of these dynamics by exploring the programmatic, financial, and operational issues facing nonprofits across the U.S. We launched the Survey in 2008, when economic crisis threatened the viability of many organizations. Seven years later, results from 5,451 respondents show some indications of recovery, stabilization, and growth. Nonprofits are adding jobs, engaging in strategic conversations such as leadership succession planning, and looking to retain their workforce. Yet as they raise their sights from the focus on short-term crisis, many are confronting the troubling reality that current practices cannot sustain organizations in the long-term or meet the needs of the communities they serve now. Many organizations have stumbled out of crisis looking to make the necessary investments to secure their long-term future. And it is a hard road ahead. 

Explore the data yourself!

Our 2015 NFF Survey Analyzer at survey.nff.org allows you to investigate questions that cut across sub-sectors, budget size, geography and other dimensions. We invite you to share what you discover via e-mail and social media. If you'd like to find out what additional slices of the survey data are available, please email us at survey@nff.org.

Key Findings

Under-resourced communities are going without because nonprofits can't meet demand. Americans particularly those in low-income communitiesare still struggling to secure jobs, affordable housing, and healthcare. 

  • 76% of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for servicesthe 7th year that a majority have reported increases.
  • 52% couldn't meet demandthe third year in a row that more than half of nonprofits couldn't meet demand.
  • Of those who reported that they could not meet demand, 71% said that client needs go unmet when they can't provide services.  

Nonprofits identified critical needs in their communities, including:

  • 35% affordable housing
  • 26% youth development (such as after-school and mentoring programs)
  • 23% job availability; 16% job training 
  • 21% access to healthcare
  • 19% access to strong, well-performing schools

Recovery of the U.S. economy hasn't addressed the systemic and perpetual funding challenges facing nonprofits. While we are seeing some positive economic indicators, in many cases nonprofits are still hampered by insufficient funding and a lack of investment in long-term sustainability. 

  • For some nonprofits, financial health indicators have improved: 47% ended 2014 with a surplus, the highest in the history of our survey.
  • However, 53% are reporting 3 months or less of cash-on-hand.
  • Nonprofits said that top challenges were:
    • Achieving long-term sustainability (32%)
    • The ability to offer competitive pay and/or retain staff (25%)
    • Raising funding that covers full costs (19%)

Nonprofits are navigating a time of immense need and change, while pursuing ways to build long-term sustainability and viability. Nonprofits continue to prove their ability to survive and thrive in tough conditions. They are working to ensure their ability to meet community needs now and in the years to come. Here are some of the ways they are investing in their futures:

  • 51% collaborated with another organization to improve or increase services offered.
  • 44% hired staff for new positions.
  • 33% upgraded hardware or software to improve service or program delivery. 
  • 29% conducted long-term strategic or financial planning.

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