Geography Of Nonprofit Sector Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Geography Of Nonprofit Sector Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

Nonprofit organizations exist worldwide and their geographic distribution has become a recent focus of investigation. Research has shown that the scope and dimensions of nonprofit sectors vary within and between countries, regions, and cities. To explain these sometimes complex patterns, researchers have considered economic, social, and political variables.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

1. A Recent Field Of Study

While philanthropy and nonprofit organizations have long been considered in a number of social science disciplines, the nonprofit sector as a distinct field of study is a fairly recent phenomenon. Sparked in the early 1970s by a growing recognition of the importance of the nonprofit sector and debates about the future of the welfare state, interest in nonprofit organizations has grown rapidly in a number of disciplines, particularly sociology, history, economics, political science, public policy, and public administration. While much of the early research was done in the United States, the study of nonprofit sectors has recently also grown rapidly in other countries around the world.

Nonprofit researchers are interested in defining the nonprofit sector, delineating its scope, and understanding the factors determining its existence and activities. This has led researchers to a set of interrelated questions about the sector. Why are there nonprofit organizations? What kinds of activities are they involved in? Where are they located?

While definitions vary, it is generally agreed that the nonprofit sector is a set of social entities that are: formally organized, private (nongovernmental), nonprofit distributing, self-governing, and voluntary to some degree (Salamon and Anheier 1998). Nonprofits have generally been cast alongside for-profit organizations and government agencies as one societal option for providing material and nonmaterial goods and services in models of three-sector economies (Weisbrod 1988). The organizations in each sector are economic entities, but the rationale for their existence varies between sectors. For-profits are oriented toward the pursuit of self-interest, government organizations toward the provision of public goods using coercive authority if necessary, and nonprofits toward the mobilization of public spirit and altruism to create social and civic benefits.

2. Geographic Variation Abounds

The extent of the nonprofit sector has been shown to vary at a number of geographical levels, including: nations, regions within nations (such as states), cities, and neighborhoods. Variation can be in terms of the numbers of organizations, their activities, and their organizational characteristics.

To explain these variations, researchers have focused on factors ranging from the general to the particular. General factors include social, cultural, economic, and political realms. Much of the research has considered more specific factors, usually related to supply and demand. Supply-side factors include public and private money, labor, volunteers, and entrepreneurs. The demand side has focused on the desire or need for different types of goods or services, which is usually seen as dependent upon individual or community characteristics. Supply and demand have also been linked to general factors, for example demands due to a history of discrimination, lack of access to alternate services as a result of public policy, or demands due to the esthetic desires of a community.

Given that the study of nonprofit geography is a new research agenda carried out by investigators in a number of different disciplines, there is as yet no definitive set of findings and conclusions. We will, therefore, outline the various approaches that are being pursued, highlight representative findings, and speculate on the future.

2.1 Cross-National Variation

An early model (Smith 1973) linked formal voluntary organizations to a number of general conditions in a society that were related, in turn, to societal modernization. In this model, nonprofit prevalence is positively related to the frequency, extent, and permanence of communication among the members of a society; the number of different goals available to them; the degree to which collective action is permissible in the society; and the degree to which there are resources and payoffs for collective action.

A variety of additional explanations have also been proposed to account for cross-national variation in the definition, prevalence, and role of the nonprofit form. One variable frequently cited is the increased demand for different types of public goods generated in more religious, ethnic, or ideologically heterogeneous populations (Weisbrod 1988). Democratic government, with its mandate to serve the majority, will not satisfy this ‘heterogeneous demand.’ Forprofits, likewise, will not provide these public goods. It is, consequently, left to nonprofits to supply them.

In addition, a number of country-specific characteristics have been considered by researchers. These include religious, ideological, and political traditions; historical contingencies; and the institutional models that result from the interaction of these factors. An example would be historically based variations in the definitions of what is public and what is private and the state-private sector relations that result (including relations between the organizations in each sector).

An ambitious project is currently underway to assess the nonprofit sector worldwide more systematically. This project includes 22 developed and developing countries. Overall, the sector has been found to be extensive and growing. Descriptive analyses of the data acquired to date show that national nonprofit sectors vary in terms of the numbers of nonprofit organizations, the services they provide, their revenues, and their employment (Salamon et al. 1999). A variety of factors to explain this variation have been proposed and tested. In terms of general trends, the rise of a third sector on the global level has been linked to the substitution of private service provision for welfare state or socialistic government services, increased activity in the areas of development and environmentalism, the rise in middle-class expectations, and improvements in communication technology.

A more extensive analysis of this data (Salamon and Anheier 1998) used seven countries to test major theories of the nonprofit sector. Explanatory variables included: societal heterogeneity (as outlined above), the supply of social entrepreneurs, a lack of trust in the for-profit market sector, a relatively weak welfare state which has not displaced a previously existing nonprofit sector, and a relatively large welfare state which uses existing and new nonprofits to deliver government-funded services. In addition to these, a more integrated ‘social origins’ theory was also included. In this theory, choices about whether to rely on market, for-profit or government provision of goods and services are determined by patterns of historical development and broader social, political, and economic relationships. Of particular interest are class relationships and patterns of state-society relations. While partial support was found for a number of factors, social origins theory was found to provide the greatest overall explanation, generating four models of nonprofit sector development.

2.2 Regional And State Variation

Research on nonprofit geography within nations has been carried out primarily in the United States. Most of this work has involved case studies or comparisons among a small number of areas. Only a few studies have focused on regions or states, undoubtedly because of the difficulty of acquiring data on these areas. For example, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC provide information on nonprofit organizations in the United States. However, only certain data are collected, and these only from larger nonprofits, which are required to provide information to the IRS. It has been estimated that only about a third of the total number of nonprofits provide such information. Given these limitations, researchers are often required to collect their own data, a significant undertaking for areas as large as states and regions.

In terms of regional variation in the United States, a few descriptive studies have been done. These typically find that the largest number of nonprofits and the greatest nonprofit expenditures are in the northeast region and the lowest in the south. At the level of the state, a number of studies are currently underway to determine the scope of the nonprofit sectors in particular states. In addition, a comparative study of state nonprofit incorporations (Abzug and Turnheim 1998) included a number of demand variables (state fiscal health, crime, poverty, unemployment, and heterogeneity) as well as supply variables (the state legal environment and the legitimacy of the nonprofit form). While a number of these factors were significant when considered separately, when taken together, the legitimacy of the nonprofit form had the most explanatory power.

2.3 City And Metropolitan Variation

Numerous studies in the United States have examined nonprofit distributions and spatial patterns both within and between cities or metropolitan regions. Prominent within-city research includes the work of McPherson and his colleagues (McPherson and Rotolo 1996), who used ecological models of organizations to study nonprofits in a Midwest community. Nonprofits located where potential members with particular demographic characteristics (potential organizational resources) were found within the metropolitan region. In addition, Wolch and Geiger (1983) studied the distribution of social welfare and community service nonprofits across municipalities in Los Angeles County and found it to be positively related to community needs and resources. Wolch has also analyzed the geography of children’s services in Los Angeles County, and found significant variation and gaps in coverage due to zoning, land prices, and neighborhood characteristics.

In terms of cross-city research, a major descriptive study by the Urban Institute in the early 1980s gathered and compared data on the nonprofit sectors in 12 sites across the United States (Salamon 1987). The research showed significant variation in metropolitan nonprofit sectors. In a more detailed study, Wolch (1990) identified voluntary—rich and voluntary—poor metropolitan areas among 15 United States cities. A significant trend revealed in the data was that welfare state reorganization, including privatization, stimulated the growth of voluntary sectors. This effect, though, was shaped by local economic and demographic factors.

The most extensive research on metropolitan nonprofit sectors has been carried out by Julian Wolpert. Beginning with studies of Philadelphia and New York his research expanded to compare regions and has most recently been focused on 85 cities across the United States (see for example Wolpert 1993). Regional differences in nonprofit sectors have been linked to regional economic cycles. Metropolitan differences have been related to community variation in generosity (measured by both private giving and public spending), with higher rates of generosity being positively related to income and negatively related to population and distress levels. In addition, nonprofits were more prevalent and more targeted to human services in center cities than in suburbs.

Political culture has been related to nonprofit presence in a study of two metropolitan areas (Bielefeld and Corbin 1996). The research used a classification of political culture based on citizen attitudes about the proper role of government. It showed that the nonprofit sector was larger in a political culture where citizens supported government redistribution of wealth as opposed to a political culture that favored a government role restricted to promoting the market or reinforcing the status quo in the community. This was also found in a study of nine metropolitan regions (Bielefeld 2000). This study also supported Wolpert’s conclusions about generosity.

2.4 Neighborhood Variation

Relatively few systematic spatial studies of nonprofit organizations have been carried out at the neighborhood level. A study of nonprofits across Dallas, Texas (Bielefeld et al. 1997) found that nonprofit organizations were more strongly influenced by demographic factors (representing resources and need) in their immediate areas, as opposed to the demographic characters of areas further removed from them. These results indicate that the nonprofit sector is closely tied to the dynamics of local communities. Given these findings, the lack of research at this level may be a serious oversight.

Most other neighborhood studies have been more descriptive and have used geographical information systems (GIS) techniques to relate providers and needs spatially, within or across neighborhoods in metropolitan areas. In a typical example, a project by the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute used a spatial analysis to examine the relationships between the nonprofits that serve families and children and the socioeconomic characteristics of three low-income neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. The purpose was to show how neighborhood environments, including the presence of nonprofit organizations, affected the well being of community residents (DeVita et al. 2000).

3. The Need For Convergence

With few exceptions, geographers have not carried out the research described above. In addition, the results have not found their way into the mainstream of that discipline. Consequently, the geographic study of nonprofit sectors is in its infancy and much remains to be explained. Closer ties between the nonprofit research community and geographers are likely to prove beneficial to both camps. Nonprofit research has clearly shown that significant geographical variation exists in the nonprofit sector and has suggested a number of important variables to account for it. This should convince geographers that the nonprofit sector is a relevant area of inquiry. On the other hand, geography, with its conceptualizations and analyses of location, place, relationships, movement, and region, clearly has much to offer nonprofit researchers in terms of methodology, variables, and theories. This is especially true for economic and cultural geography, which considers many of the same kinds of issues which interest the nonprofit research community (see for example Lee and Wills 1997). It is because of this convergence of interests that a more well-developed geography of the nonprofit sector should be pursued.


  1. Abzug R, Turnheim J 1998 Bandwagon or band-aid? A model of nonprofit incorporation by state. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 27: 300–22
  2. Bielefeld W 2000 Metropolitan nonprofit sectors: Findings from NCCS data. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 29: 297–314
  3. Bielefeld W, Corbin J 1996 The institutionalization of nonprofit human service delivery: The role of political culture. Administration and Society 28: 362–89
  4. Bielefeld W, Murdoch J C, Waddell P 1997 The influence of demographics and distance on nonprofit location. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 26: 207–25
  5. De Vita C J, Manjarrez C, Twombly E C 2000 Organizations and Neighborhood Networks that Strengthen Families in the District of Columbia: Final Report to the Ammie E. Cassey Foundation. The Urban Institute, Washington, DC
  6. Lee R, Wills J 1997 Geographies of Economies. Arnold, London
  7. McPherson J M, Rotolo T 1996 Testing a dynamic model of social composition: Diversity and change in voluntary groups. American Sociological Review 61: 179–202
  8. Salamon L M 1987 Partner in public service: The scope and theory of government-nonprofit relations. In: Powell W W (ed.) The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
  9. Salamon L M, Anheier H K 1998 Social origins of civil society: Explaining the nonprofit sector cross-nationally. VOLUNTAS 9: 213–48
  10. Salamon L M, Anheier H K et al. 1999 The Emerging Sector Revisited: A Summary. Institute for Policy Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  11. Smith D H 1973 Modernization and the emergence of voluntary associations. In: Smith D H (ed.) Voluntary Action Research, D. C. Heath & Co, Lexington, MA
  12. Weisbrod B A 1988 The Nonprofit Economy. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
  13. Wolch J 1990 The Shadow State. The Foundation Center, New York
  14. Wolch J, Geiger R K 1983 The urban distribution of voluntary resources: An exploratory analysis. Environment and Planning, A 15: 1067–82
  15. Wolpert J 1993 Decentralization and equity in public and nonprofit sectors. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 22: 281–96
Place In Geography Research Paper
Geography of Middle East and North Africa Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!