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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 18, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 3
New U.N. Guidelines Put Civil Society on World's Economic Map

By Mimi Bilzor
Institute for Policy Studies

Early results from the adoption of new United Nations reporting guidelines reveal that the worldwide nonprofit sector is far larger and more dynamic than previously recognized, a Johns Hopkins professor reported last week at the 59th Annual U.N. Nongovernmental Organization Conference.

Issued in 2003, the U.N. Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts calls on national statistical agencies to document explicitly the size and economic importance of civil society, philanthropy and volunteering for the first time, and countries are responding energetically to this call, Lester Salamon said. Salamon is director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, which developed the handbook in collaboration with the U.N. Statistics Division and is now spearheading implementation efforts.

"We set a goal of securing commitments from 30 countries to implement this handbook by 2008," Salamon said, "and we already have 26 countries committed. What is more, nine of these countries have already produced the 'satellite accounts' on nonprofit institutions that the handbook calls for, and the results are quite striking." For example:

Canada's nonprofit sector, including the value of volunteer work, accounts for nearly 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product, more than the country's retail trade and its mining, oil and gas extraction industries.

The contribution made to Canada's GDP by volunteers equals the contribution by the country's agriculture sector.

Excluding the value of volunteer time, nonprofits in the United States account for nearly 5 percent of GDP, more than agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; mining; utilities; construction; transportation and warehousing; and information.

Employment among French nonprofits has grown by one-third over the past decade.

The contribution to GDP of Australia's nonprofit sector exceeds that of utilities, accommodations and restaurants, and communications.

In the United States, nonprofit contribution to GDP grew faster than GDP itself during the period 1996-2004 (on average, 4.2 percent per year vs. 3.3 percent per year, adjusting for inflation).

In Belgium, the nonprofit sector's contribution to GDP grew at well over three times the rate of the entire economy between 2000 and 2003 (4.7 percent vs. 1.3 percent).

"Thanks to these new data, nonprofit organizations are gaining new visibility and credibility around the world," Salamon said. "But with this new visibility comes new responsibility for conscientiousness and competence, responsibilities that nonprofit organizations are fortunately now increasingly recognizing."

For further information on the U.N. Nonprofit Institutions Handbook and on the results of implementation to date, go to


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