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Assembling the Puzzle of the Nonprofit-Economic Development Linkage


  • Brennan John F.

    () (Public and International Affairs, University of North Carlolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC, USA)

  • Paarlberg Laurie

    () (Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas)

  • Hoyman Michele

    () (Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA)


This study seeks to quantify the impact of the nonprofit sector on economic development by more clearly defining the diverse roles that nonprofits may play in development – instrumental, expressive, and connective. We begin by summarizing existing research on nonprofit organizations and economic development. Using secondary data, we test our model in 360 U.S. metropolitan areas for the years 2001–2006. Do nonprofit organizations produce economic growth? Our statistical findings suggest, “Not really” and “It depends.” While some forms of nonprofit organizations (business associations) are positively related to growth, others such as congregations and social and fraternal associations may have a dampening effect. Overall, our findings suggest complex relationships between individual forms of capital, organizational structures, and development that may be place and time dependent. While our findings currently provide little guidance for policy makers attempting to promote economic development, our findings do have important implications for nonprofit and public policy scholars. Any attempt to explore the relationship between nonprofit activity and development must untangle indicators of individual behavior (church attendance or census return rates) from indicators of organizational structures (such as the number of specific organizations). Second, any effort to understand the impact of the nonprofit sector should disaggregate sector measures based upon a conceptual understanding of the diverse roles of various organizational types (for example, human service organizations versus social and fraternal organizations). Finally, growth and development and the role of the sector are contextual, exhibiting significant regional and temporal variation.

Suggested Citation

  • Brennan John F. & Paarlberg Laurie & Hoyman Michele, 2013. "Assembling the Puzzle of the Nonprofit-Economic Development Linkage," Nonprofit Policy Forum, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 45-65, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:nonpfo:v:5:y:2013:i:1:p:45-65:n:4

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    References listed on IDEAS

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