Skip to main content

Arkansas State University

The Role of Nonprofits in Society

The role of nonprofits in society

Nonprofit organizations play a growing role in the social and economic well-being of the United States. They provide services, goods and resources to meet community needs. They are businesses, most often charitable, that assist other businesses in the community to drive economic development, the arts, cultural awareness, education, health and spirituality — in virtually every sector of society. As government agencies and the private sector have scaled back their charitable giving in recent years, nonprofits have become indispensable.

The role of nonprofits in society can have ripple effects throughout the economy. A 2020 report by Johns Hopkins University showed that nonprofits jobs grew 18.6% from 2007 to 2017 — three times that of for-profit employment in the U.S. In 2016, the nonprofit sector provided 5.6% of the nation’s entire GDP — $1.047.2 trillion.

There are still more businesses than nonprofits, but the number and importance of nonprofit organizations are both increasing. From 2006 to 2016, the number of philanthropic organizations in the U.S. grew 4.5%, while the number of for-profit businesses rose by half of 1%, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that conducts economic and social policy research. One reason for the uptick in nonprofits is a higher demand for services after the Great Recession.

Charitable giving in the U.S. now exceeds pre-recession levels, according to “Giving USA 2019,” written and researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and published by Giving USA Foundation. Charitable donations in 2018 topped $427.71 billion, a 0.7% decrease from 2017.


Executive directors, staff, board members and volunteers of a nonprofit — as well as students pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree — can learn how to foster this increased fundraising for their own organizations through professional development courses and programs. Many students earn an MPA degree to assume nonprofit positions such as executive director, president, director of development, grants manager, grant writer and marketing director. MPA students learn how a nonprofit can meet the diverse needs of individuals, families and communities; how to cover and manage direct service costs and the costs of fund development; how an organization must comply with multiple regulations of public funding; and how to recruit and maintain qualified boards and donors.

Nonprofit organizations will continue to play a significant role in society and the economy. They will continue to require the type of skilled administrators and leaders an MPA program can provide.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online MPA program.


Lilly Family School of Philanthropy: Giving USA 2019

Foundation List: What is a Nonprofit?

National Center for Charitable Statistics: The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2019

Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies: Nonprofit Economic Data Project


Related Articles

Request Information

Submit the form below, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 866-621-8096

Ready to go?

Start your application today!
Or call 866-621-8096 866-621-8096
for help with any questions you have.
  • Choose All That Apply