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Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector
Published by EH.NET (March 2000)
Salamon, Lester M., Helmut K. Anheier, Regina List, Stefan Toepler, S.
Wojciech Sokolowski and Associates. Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the
Nonprofit Sector. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector
Project, 1999. Price (paper) $34.95. ISBN 1-886333-42-4.
Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by Milton Goldin
National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS)
The Global Associational Revolution
"...a veritable 'global associational revolution' appears to be underway, a
massive upsurge of organized private, voluntary activity in literally every
corner of the world. Prompted in part by growing doubts about the capability of
the state to cope on its own with the social welfare,
developmental, and environmental problems that face nations today, this growth
of civil society organizations has been stimulated as well by the
communications revolution...." (p. 4)
If these statements appear to be exaggerations--after all, how often do you
think of nonprofits in connection with revolutions?--brace yourself before
reading this book. Dr. Salamon and his co-authors will positively jolt you with
their conclusions based on data from 22 nations including Israel,
Japan, the United States, five countries in Eastern Europe, and five countries
in Latin America. All data relate to 1995.
Consider the following:
- "Even excluding religious congregations, the nonprofit sector...is a $1.1
trillion industry that employs close to 19 million full-time equivalent paid
workers. Nonprofit expenditures in these  countries...average 4.6 percent
of the gross domestic product, and nonprofit employment is nearly 5 percent of
all nonagricultural employment," (p. 8)
- "... if the nonprofit sector in these countries were a separate national
economy, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world, ahead of Brazil,
Russia, Canada, and Spain." (p. 9)
- "Nonprofit employment in the eight countries for which time-series data were
available grew by an average of 24 percent, or more than 4 percent a year,
between 1990 and 1995
. By comparison, overall employment in these same countries grew during this
same period by a considerably slower 8 percent, or less than 2 percent a year,"
- "...the growth in nonprofit employment evident in these figures has been made
not chiefly by a surge in private philanthropy or public-sector support, but by
a substantial increase in fee income," (p. 31)
- "...the relative size of the nonprofit sector varies greatly among countries,
from a high of 12.6 percent of total nonagricultural employment in the
Netherlands to a low of less than 1 percent of total employment in Mexico. The
overall 22-country average, however, was close to 5 percent.
This means that the U.S., at 7.8 percent without religious worship, lies
substantially above the global average. However, it falls below three Western
European countries the Netherlands (12.6 percent), Ireland (11.5 percent), and
Belgium (10.5 percent), as well as Israel (9.2 percent). (pp.
Despite the awesome data, Salamon writes in
his Preface that we are nowhere near having enough information to fully grasp
what is happening in America or elsewhere vis-a-vis nonprofits. For those of us
who closely follow the philanthropic literature, this is surely no
exaggeration: The IRS isn't even certain how many private foundations or
nonprofits exist. Nor is lack of data the extent of the problem. Salamon and
his associates at the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project which
manages the research rightly seek in the long term not only to describe the
structure, and revenue bases" of nonprofits around the world but hope, in later
volumes, to account "for the differences that exist" between nonprofits in
various countries, "the factors [that] seem to encourage or retard
their development," and, finally (and perhaps most important of all), to
answer the questions, "what difference...these entities seem to make? What are
their special contributions?" (p. xvii)
The more philosophical among us might have preferred that Salamon and his
associates begin with a volume responding to the questions about economic
benefits that justify nonprofits and what expectations we should entertain for
their future. The purpose would be not only to provide intellectual
satisfaction but because of the gigantic transfer of wealth currently
underway, in America, from the World War II generation and baby boomers to
foundations and other tax shelters.
But to return to the present volume, someone somewhere once said there are no
specialists, only vested interests. When Salamon writes, "Traditionally,
the United States has been considered the seedbed of nonprofit activity,"
and then proceeds to write that Alexis de Tocqueville, "a keen 19th century
observer of American institutional life, aptly considered voluntary
associations a uniquely democratic response to solving social problems. . ."
(p. 261), you have to wonder exactly which vested interests de Tocqueville
thought were being served. But had de Tocqueville attempted to address this, he
would have come across immediate, knotty problems, including how,
exactly, to define "nonprofit" or "charity" or "philanthropy" in an American
Definition is no easier 150 years after de Tocqueville's visit. Annual salaries
of some nonprofit executives now exceed $1 million; this suggests that
nonprofit is not non- profit for them. Benjamin Franklin, the patron saint of
American philanthropy, thought charity (meaning welfare) should be the business
of churches and never of government. To him, philanthropy meant community
advancement, and community advancement must be the business of all citizens. To
put the matter bluntly, successful entrepreneurs could only do well if they did
some local good, but finding shelter for the homeless was not the kind of good
in which they should be involved.
As Global Civil Society
makes clear, one of the most remarkable aspects
of post-industrial philanthropy is the degree to which systems in various
countries throughout the world have come to resemble each other.
In Western Europe, "On average, three-fourths of all nonprofit employees...work
in education, health or social service organizations. This reflects the
historic role that the Catholic and Protestant churches have long played in the
education and social service field." (p. 16). In America, "...almost half of
all nonprofit employment...is in the health field. This is more than twice as
high as the global average of 19.6%...." (p. 269) (On the other hand, it should
be pointed out, as Salamon does, that "one
out of every five nonprofit employees in the United States works in the
educational field. This is proportionally well below the all-country average
and also falls below the developed country average. The principal reason for
this is that the tradition of
separation of church and state in the U.S. has limited the growth of public
funding of religiously affiliated education institutions in the country....")
But in America, as in the other 22 countries during the past two decades,
financing nonprofits has had less and less to do with philanthropic giving and
more and more to do with fees paid for services by governments. In this
connection, Catholic Charities of America receives some 62 percent of its
annual $1.9 billion operating income from eight national agencies as well as
local and state governments, to provide home care for the elderly,
battered-women's shelters, foster care, and other essential services.
Global Civil Society was published at a time when the American economy
as no one had ever imagined it could. But not in Washington or in any other
world capital were those officials concerned with welfare policy over- curious
about what might happen if the global economy falters and a depression
threatens. Hopefully, a succeeding volume in this series will include a "What
If" chapter. We badly need thinking in this area.
 David Van Bema, "Can Charity Fill the Gap?" Time (December 4, 1995),
pp. 44-46, 53.