The civil society sector contributes about as much to
gross domestic product in a wide range of
countries as do the construction and finance industries and
twice as much as the utilities industry,
according to a Johns Hopkins report released last week at
the first Global Assembly on Measuring
Civil Society and Volunteering, held in Bonn, Germany.
These findings emerge from data generated by official
statistical agencies in eight countries
that are the first to implement new guidelines contained in
the U.N. Handbook on Nonprofit
Institutions, which was issued by the U.N. Statistical
Division in 2003. These guidelines call on
statistical agencies, for the first time, to pull together
data on nonprofit institutions that up to now
have been scattered in official statistics, and to estimate
as well the value of volunteer work.
"We now have an officially sanctioned method for
capturing the economic scale and importance
of civil society and volunteering around the world, and
what it is revealing is that this set of
organizations is far more important than we have realized,"
noted Lester Salamon, report author and
director of the Johns Hopkins Center for
Civil Society Studies, which helped the United Nations
draft the handbook and has been involved in promoting its
According to the report, the civil society sector
— comprising private not-for-profit hospitals,
schools, social service agencies, symphonies, environmental
groups and many other organizations —
accounts on average for 5 percent of GDP in the countries
covered, and exceeds 7 percent in some
countries, such as Canada and the United States. By
comparison, the utilities industry — including gas,
water and electricity — in these same countries
accounts on average for only 2.3 percent of GDP, the
construction industry for 5.1 percent and the financial
intermediation industry — embracing banks,
insurance companies and financial services firms —
for 5.6 percent.
Other findings in this report, which covers Australia,
Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic,
France, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, include
For the five countries on which
historical data are available (Belgium, Canada, the Czech
Republic, Japan and the United States), nonprofit
institutions have recently been growing at an
average rate that is twice the growth rate of GDP (8.1
percent per year vs. 4.1 percent).
Nonprofits account for the lion's
share of value added in many critical human service fields.
Belgium, for example, they provide more than 40 percent of
the value added in health and more than
two-thirds of the value added in social services.
Health and education account on
average for 60 percent of the economic contribution of
nonprofit institutions, though this figure varies widely by
volunteering, generates at most only about one-third of
revenue. The balance comes from government and fees.
Within philanthropy, gifts of time
(i.e., volunteering) outdistance gifts of cash by almost
Volunteer work accounts on average
for about 25 percent of the economic contribution of
nonprofit institutions, though this reaches 50 percent in
The meeting at which this report was released was the
first official gathering of statistical
offices involved in implementing the new U.N. Handbook on
Nonprofit Institutions around the world.
Held at the U.N. offices in Bonn, the assembly was
organized by the Center for Civil Society Studies
at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies in
cooperation with U.N. Volunteers and the U.N.
In addition to the eight countries that have already
issued the NPI Satellite Accounts called
for in the handbook, 20 more countries, both developed and
developing, have committed to doing so,
and a number of others are about to begin implementation.
The result will boost significantly the
visibility and credibility of this set of institutions and
permit more coherent public and private policies
The full text of the report, "Measuring Civil Society
and Volunteering: Initial Findings from
Implementation of the U.N. Handbook on Nonprofit
Institutions," is available at www.jhu.edu/ccss.
Printed copies can be purchased for a small fee by