11 Nonprofit Research Resources to Bookmark Now

The abundance of nonprofit research can sometimes feel like information overload. We’re not complaining (this blog exists to help share more research and resources), but it can be hard to know where to start if you’re just dipping your toe in the water.
We have our own must-bookmark list of resources that we keep tabs on regularly. Check out our top 11 resources on nonprofit research below so you can stay on top of trends, expand your own knowledge, and help your organization make more strategic, data-driven decisions.

1. M+R Benchmarks

Released annually, The M+R Benchmarks are essential for tracking trends in nonprofit digital strategy and seeing how your organization measures up against benchmarks both industry-wide and within your cause vertical. This is the tl;dr of measuring success in digital fundraising, email marketing, website engagement, and social media. In their 2018 report, M+R collected data on 135 nonprofits to help you understand what’s working and different trends in the space. 2019 data will be released on May 1.

2. Blackbaud Annual Charitable Giving Report

The Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report tracks fundraising performance with a $31 billion sample size. Focuses include giving trends overall, online, and via mobile; donor behavior broken down by generational demographics, global giving highlights, #GivingTuesday data, and trends in donor retention.

3. Bridgespan Research and Insights

The Bridgespan Group consults with nonprofits and philanthropists to scale social impact. Their work in the social sector has “bridged” social and business sectors, donors and grantees, and theory to practice, which also means they have a wealth of research and insights. Their knowledge library includes reports and research on nonprofit boards, effective organizations and philanthropy, funding strategy, impact investing, performance measurement, strategy development, and hiring.

4. NTEN’s Reports and Resources

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of NTEN here at Whole Whale, especially their annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (we’ve been there a few times…). Tech is a major focus for their reports and resources, with key data to guide digital marketing and fundraising trends, nonprofit cybersecurity, and the nonprofit cloud. However, NTEN takes a holistic approach to the sector and also highlight research around topics like professional development and cultural practices.

5. Fundraising Report Card

Fundraising Report Card helps nonprofits measure the performance of their own fundraising efforts, with plenty of benchmarks around fundraising key performance indicators. One thing that sets them apart from other nonprofit research resources is that they update their benchmarks in real time. They also group their benchmarks by donor giving level, from under $100 to $5,000+.

fundraising report card live benchmark data

6. Independent Sector

The Independent Sector is a national membership organization for nonprofits that runs some of our favorite nonprofit conferences (Upswell comes to Chicago this November). They keep that information access going year-round with their resource library, with a wealth of trusted resources broken down by topic (including administration, civil society, congress, data, and public policy), type (from fact sheets to podcasts), to policy issues (including donor disclosure, estate tax, donor-advised funds, IRS oversight, and lobbying).. It’s updated pretty frequently, so check back often.

7. Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR)

A former Whole Whale client, SSIR is an award-winning quarterly magazine-cum-website written by and for social change leaders. With over 15 years’ worth of content, you’re likely to find what you’re searching for whether it’s a blog post or more in-depth research, narrowed down by social issue, sector, or solution. If they aren’t the ones publishing the research, then they’re referring you to the right report. Sign up for their weekly newsletter to get the latest updates delivered right to your inbox.

8. National Center for Charitable Statistics

The National Center for Charitable Statistics is an open-data platform for nonprofit employees, researchers and policymakers. Their research and data is organized into projects that can get incredibly granular (like their annual resource for MasterCard donation insights), or keep it to a broad overview (like the nonprofit sector in brief). Take a look at the last year’s worth of reports to get a sense of what to expect in 2019, as most projects are updated annually.

9. Center for Civil Society Studies

Johns Hopkins is another former Whole Whale client (we worked with the Bloomberg School of Public Health), and we know their commitment to data is deep. The Center for Civil Society Studies goes beyond nonprofits to tie together all 3 sectors — government, civil society, and business — to see where they can overlap for larger impact. Their site is worth a deep dive, but some highlights of their ongoing nonprofit research projects include: New Frontiers of Philanthropy, a comparative analysis of the nonprofit sector, the Nonprofit Listening Post Project, and the Nonprofit Economic Data Project.

10. Foundation Center Research

The Foundation Center offers a ton of research, mostly on trends within the philanthropy space. Highlights from their 2018 publications include U.S. Foundation funding for Latin and Central America, Global Giving by U.S. Foundations, Peace and Security Funding, and Grantmaking Knowledge Sharing.

11. Cause IQ

Causeiq.com is an incredible research tool for understanding nonprofit staff, spending and tons of other data points they have gathered on the industry. Their search allows you to search for nonprofits that spend a certain amount on advertising, revenue, software, or types of staff structure. This can also be used for benchmarking directly against your industry/cause type/org size to see how you financials match up.
Here is an example of analysis of Animal related nonprofits over $1M and how much they are spending on advertising, and total program as a percent of expenses.
Cause IQ animal nonprofit data
Doing research and spotting trends among your own data? We recommend Google Data Studio for putting the results together.