As a sequel to his 1989 The Third America, which surveyed the American nonprofit sector through history, O’Neill’s Nonprofit Nation focuses exclusively on the nonprofit scene from 1950-2000. It’s a book meant for “anyone interested in a general, non-technical overview of the American nonprofit sector,” and it succeeds, despite its relatively thin 308 pages.
The book’s greatest asset is its 56 tables. These provide general statistics about all 1.8 million registered nonprofit groups, as well as more specific information on the nine categories that these groups fall into: religion, social service, health care, education and research, advocacy, arts and culture, international, funders, and mutual benefit.
Each group has its own chapter, in which O’Neill discusses both the “scope and impact” that nonprofit work and giving has, and the “trends and issues” nonprofits face today. The second of these two sections are succinct and provide interesting insights for both those inside and outside the field being discussed. In the chapter on religion, for example, O’Neill provides a tight synopsis of church-state separation, trends in American religiosity, the modernist vs. fundamentalist debate, and the religiosity and secularization issue. Donors interested in venturing into an area they know little about will find the scope and impact sections particularly helpful.
The prognostication chapter is new, and O’Neill is careful to recognize the pitfalls of predicting the future. Nonetheless, his topical approach is welcome. O’Neill identifies several issues—including immigration, education, and aging—that will directly and indirectly shape giving in the near future.
The book isn’t bedside reading, but it is a good deskside companion.