The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook

The Handbook fills a unique space in the nonprofit literature, as the only sector-wide volume aimed at furthering research in the field. The nonprofit sector, including academic degree programs and individual research projects on nonprofits, has grown exponentially since the 1990s. There are now several handbooks related to nonprofit management, and several that provide an introduction to the nonprofit sector for those new to the field. The first edition, published in 1987, focused efforts on a newly emerging space referred to as the independent sector that explored how nonprofit organizations were becoming more professional. The second edition, published in 2006, explored the ways in which nonprofit organizations attempted to influence society, interact with governments and operate in an increasingly business-like manner. This volume is unique, however, in its focus on advancing cutting-edge empirical and theoretical developments in the field.

The volume aims to shape the future direction of research on nonprofits, rather than providing overviews of existing literature. This issue also comes at a time when nonprofits are increasingly intertwined across with both the public and business domains, opening up a broader conversation on civic action and social purpose. The world and the nonprofit sector have changed in fundamental ways since the last edition was published more than 10 years ago. The nonprofit sector has expanded further, and now overlaps a great deal more with both the public and private sector. Thus, it is time to revisit the state and direction of nonprofit research. The themed sections in the handbook will highlight the growing role of nonprofits in public policy, visit current debates over whether these entities are vehicles for supporting democracy or tools for special interests, examine the blurring boundaries between the for-profit, public, and non-profit sectors, and analyze the challenges encountered by efforts to measure impact and outcomes in the sector.

Here are the links to courses that are using the Handbook: Stanford University, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Reed College. See the syllabi here.

The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook


This book, now in its third edition, brings together leading researchers—economists, historians, philosophers, political scientists, and sociologists along with scholars from communication, education, law, management, and policy schools—to investigate the impact of associational life. Chapters consider the history of the nonprofit sector and of philanthropy; the politics of the public sphere; governance, mission, and engagement; access and inclusion; and global perspectives on nonprofit organizations. Across this comprehensive range of topics, The Nonprofit Sector makes an essential contribution to the study of civil society.

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Book Reviews

“Walter Powell, Patricia Bromley, and Stanford University Press are to be congratulated for assembling this timely, unique, and definitive volume which not only chronicles the history of the nonprofit sector but also provides a broad but critical analysis of its current state. This third edition of The Nonprofit Sector presents a wide range of carefully chosen scholarship which will ensure that this book remains an invaluable resource to the growing number of scholars and practitioners in the sector around the world. It is an essential handbook for the leadership of nonprofit and philanthropic institutions, their governing boards, as well as public officials and journalists.”

—Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

The nonprofit form has spread around the world as a unique alternative to markets and governments. This third edition of The Nonprofit Sector provides great insight into this phenomenon, and is as exciting and informative as the previous two. With fresh faces and insights, it is a real joy to read.”

—Joseph Galaskiewicz, University of Arizona

Now in its third edition, The Nonprofit Sector continues to build the field of nonprofit studies by exploring the full range of organizations, associations, actions, and interactions that constitute the voluntary sector in the US and globally. Featuring a broad and multidisciplinary range of scholars, this work provokes us to reexamine the history and envision the future of nonprofit scholarship and practice. The Nonprofit Sector generates a rich research agenda that will stimulate novel and innovative scholarship for years to come.”

—Mary Kay Gugerty, University of Washington

Hear from the authors

Book Salon at the Hertie School – The Nonprofit Sector

December 8, 2020

Watch a conversation about “The Nonprofit Sector: A research Handbook”...

Nonprofit Handbook: USC Social Innovation Speaker Series Virtual Conversation

September 28, 2020

This event was co-sponsored by the USC Center for Philanthropy...

Book Launch – The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook

May 22, 2020

A live discussion with contributing authors from the #NonprofitHandbook in...

Aaron Horvath and Woody Powell discuss chapter – Seeing Like a Philanthropist: From the Business of Benevolence to the Benevolence of Business

November 13, 2019

Patricia Bromley discusses chapter – The Organizational Transformation of Civil Society

Rob Reich discusses chapter – Political Theory and the Nonprofit Sector

Claire Dunning and Christof Brandtner discuss chapter – Nonprofits as Urban Infrastructure

Johanna Mair discusses chapter – Social Entrepreneurship: Research as Disciplined Exploration

Paul Brest discusses chapter – The Outcomes Movement in Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector

Elizabeth McKenna discusses chapter – Social Movements in a Global Context: History, Content, and Form

Irene Bloemraad discusses chapter – Immigrant Organizations: Civic (In)equality and Civic (In)visibility

November 19, 2019

Hear section overviews from the editors

Co-Editors Woody Powell and Patricia Bromley introduce the third edition of the Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook

November 13, 2019

Nonprofit Handbook, Part One: Emergence, Transformation, and Regulation

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Two : Politics of the Public Sphere

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Three: Governance, Civic Capacity, and Communities

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Four: Nonprofits, Mission, and the Market

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Five: Balancing Access and Inclusion

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Six: Advocacy, Engagement, and the Public

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Seven: Motivation, Meaning and Prosocial Behavior

Nonprofit Handbook, Part Eight: Global and Comparative Perspectives