Where Nonprofits Are Most Prevalent in America

When a community is in fiscal trouble, nonprofits are often a big help. But some places have far fewer of them.
by | August 2019

Governments can’t always do all the things they want to do. When their resources are stretched too thin, or when the public determines they don’t want government involved in a particular area -- nonprofits often step in to fill the gap. But not all cities benefit from nonprofits in the same way. Some places have a far more robust nonprofit sector than others.

Older, more established communities, especially in the Northeast and the industrial Midwest, tend to possess more legacy wealth and established institutions, so they generally have far more nonprofits than more newly developed regions do, although the amount of resources individual groups have varies. Capital cities also typically have many nonprofits. The Trenton, N.J., metro area is home to more locally focused nonprofits per capita than any metro area with a population exceeding 300,000. Madison, Wis., and Boulder, Colo., are not far behind. Among metros over 1 million, Boston registers the highest rate of locally focused nonprofits, followed by San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

To assess the concentration of nonprofits across the country, Governing reviewed 2018 IRS data published by the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Nonprofits with very narrow interests, such as college scholarship programs, or those dealing with national issues not specific to their communities, like medical research, were excluded.

What we found was that the concentration of locally focused nonprofits doesn’t just vary from one part of the country to another -- it varies a lot. The top 10 metro areas on our list have more than twice the number of nonprofits per capita as all those in the bottom quarter.

Consider Madison, Wis. The metro area has long ranked among the top in the country for its concentration of nonprofits, says Tom Linfield of the Madison Community Foundation. Along with the state capitol and the state’s flagship university, there’s a large park system and a cluster of lakes, both of which have numerous nonprofit groups advocating on their behalf. There’s even a virtuous circle of nonprofit activism, Linfield says, with the city’s rich history of foundations and charitable organizations spurring the creation of new grassroots groups focused on individual neighborhoods and specialized issues. “There are many people just full of passion who feel the need to do something,” he says, “but they don’t want to join [an existing organization]. They want to start their own thing.”

By comparison, fast-growth cities in the South and the West don’t have nearly as many nonprofits, at least on a per capita basis. The Las Vegas metro area, which has roughly doubled in population over the past two decades, has only about a quarter as many locally focused nonprofits as the top metros. The same is true in expanding communities in Florida, Texas and Utah.

In many older communities, especially those that are economically depressed, strong nonprofit sectors are helping beleaguered governments. A recent article in the journal Urban Affairs Review examined nonprofits in Midwestern cities that had endured significant public workforce cuts. In Flint, Mich., 82 percent of surveyed nonprofits reported providing additional services following the 2014 contaminated water emergency. Same with Detroit after its 2013 bankruptcy, when 56 percent of local nonprofits stepped up their services. The bottom line, says Sarah Reckhow of Michigan State University, one of the authors of the survey, is that “nonprofits are responsive and can be nimble in adding services when a crisis emerges.”

 

Larger icons represent more locally focused nonprofits per capita for metro areas.

 

Within individual metro areas, nonprofits are typically most active in disadvantaged neighborhoods. A 2015 Urban Institute analysis found that Census tracts with higher poverty rates had more community-oriented nonprofits per capita, with particularly high concentrations in the poorest places.

Whether residents actually seek out nonprofits depends on a number of factors. One of them, according to recent research, is their perception of local government. A study by American University researchers found that the more positively citizens felt about their government services, the more likely they were to use nonprofit services as well. 

This all suggests that nonprofits and local governments rely on each other, rather than one sector acting to supplant the other.

 

Where Are All the Locally Focused Nonprofits?

Metro Area Nonprofits Nonprofits Per 10k Population
Barnstable Town, MA 517 24.2
Pittsfield, MA 286 22.6
Santa Fe, NM 285 19.0
Missoula, MT 219 18.4
Ithaca, NY 187 18.2
Springfield, IL 358 17.2
Trenton, NJ 634 17.1
Bismarck, ND 222 16.7
Napa, CA 231 16.6
Madison, WI 1,094 16.6
Burlington-South Burlington, VT 366 16.6
Boulder, CO 538 16.5
Duluth, MN-WI 447 16.0
Great Falls, MT 130 15.9
Fairbanks, AK 157 15.9
Glens Falls, NY 198 15.8
Jefferson City, MO 234 15.4
Portland-South Portland, ME 813 15.2
Anchorage, AK 595 14.9
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 1,391 14.7
Casper, WY 115 14.5
Charleston, WV 301 14.3
Corvallis, OR 131 14.2
Dubuque, IA 137 14.1
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 6,895 14.1
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 1,246 14.1
Billings, MT 242 14.1
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 382 13.9
Lincoln, NE 465 13.9
Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI 231 13.8
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 6,518 13.8
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 606 13.6
Cheyenne, WY 134 13.5
Charlottesville, VA 318 13.5
Santa Rosa, CA 673 13.5
Midland, MI 112 13.5
Lima, OH 138 13.4
Watertown-Fort Drum, NY 150 13.4
Wheeling, WV-OH 186 13.3
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA 374 13.2
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 8,230 13.2
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 754 13.1
Lansing-East Lansing, MI 632 13.1
La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN 179 13.1
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 1,576 13.1
Johnstown, PA 172 13.1
Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 852 13.0
Wenatchee, WA 155 12.9
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 2,085 12.9
Rapid City, SD 191 12.8
Pittsburgh, PA 2,982 12.8
Rochester, MN 281 12.8
Ocean City, NJ 118 12.7
Sioux City, IA-NE-SD 214 12.7
New Haven-Milford, CT 1,082 12.6
Tallahassee, FL 482 12.5
Bloomsburg-Berwick, PA 104 12.4
Kingston, NY 220 12.3
Erie, PA 334 12.3
Syracuse, NY 796 12.2
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 4,432 12.2
Grand Forks, ND-MN 124 12.1
Norwich-New London, CT 318 11.9
Carson City, NV 66 11.9
Topeka, KS 275 11.8
Altoona, PA 144 11.8
Manchester-Nashua, NH 488 11.8
Springfield, MA 741 11.7
Fargo, ND-MN 287 11.7
State College, PA 190 11.7
Bend-Redmond, OR 224 11.7
Bangor, ME 176 11.6
Mankato-North Mankato, MN 118 11.6
Ann Arbor, MI 429 11.6
Binghamton, NY 274 11.4
Sioux Falls, SD 303 11.4
Medford, OR 250 11.4
Grand Island, NE 96 11.3
Decatur, IL 118 11.3
Walla Walla, WA 73 11.2
Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA 144 11.2
Parkersburg-Vienna, WV 101 11.2
Rochester, NY 1,201 11.2
Elmira, NY 94 11.2
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 1,758 11.2
Lewiston-Auburn, ME 120 11.1
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 1,255 11.1
Williamsport, PA 126 11.1
Bellingham, WA 248 11.0
Sheboygan, WI 126 10.9
Evansville, IN-KY 343 10.9
Terre Haute, IN 184 10.8
Redding, CA 195 10.8
St. Cloud, MN 216 10.8
Peoria, IL 398 10.8
Lexington-Fayette, KY 555 10.7
Harrisonburg, VA 145 10.7
Enid, OK 65 10.7
Iowa City, IA 185 10.7
Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA 181 10.7
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 2,643 10.7
Eugene, OR 404 10.6
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 612 10.6
Morgantown, WV 149 10.6
Columbus, OH 2,237 10.6
Eau Claire, WI 179 10.6
Bloomington, IL 200 10.6
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL 403 10.6
Winston-Salem, NC 708 10.5
Oshkosh-Neenah, WI 180 10.5
Columbus, IN 87 10.5
Cumberland, MD-WV 102 10.4
Toledo, OH 627 10.4
Bay City, MI 108 10.4
Carbondale-Marion, IL 129 10.4
Wausau, WI 140 10.3
Columbia, MO 186 10.3
Ames, IA 101 10.3
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 2,114 10.3
Fond du Lac, WI 105 10.2
Montgomery, AL 377 10.1
Jackson, MS 586 10.1
Flagstaff, AZ 144 10.1
Asheville, NC 461 10.0
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,926 10.0
Bloomington, IN 167 10.0
Lancaster, PA 539 9.9
Cedar Rapids, IA 270 9.9
Utica-Rome, NY 288 9.9
Lawrence, KS 120 9.9
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 6,009 9.9
Chambersburg-Waynesboro, PA 152 9.8
Niles-Benton Harbor, MI 151 9.8
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 19,543 9.8
Roanoke, VA 307 9.8
Dayton, OH 788 9.8
Midland, TX 174 9.8
Mansfield, OH 118 9.7
Battle Creek, MI 131 9.7
Albany, OR 124 9.7
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 2,725 9.7
Pine Bluff, AR 87 9.7
Worcester, MA-CT 918 9.7
Salisbury, MD-DE 397 9.7
Staunton-Waynesboro, VA 119 9.7
Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL 152 9.7
Urban Honolulu, HI 946 9.7
Abilene, TX 165 9.6
Morristown, TN 114 9.6
Salem, OR 415 9.6
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 711 9.6
Cape Girardeau, MO-IL 93 9.6
Fort Collins, CO 336 9.6
Hot Springs, AR 95 9.6
Saginaw, MI 182 9.5
Gettysburg, PA 98 9.5
Olympia-Tumwater, WA 273 9.5
Fort Wayne, IN 417 9.5
Kalamazoo-Portage, MI 324 9.5
Manhattan, KS 93 9.5
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 2,222 9.5
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 2,774 9.5
Champaign-Urbana, IL 226 9.4
Mobile, AL 390 9.4
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 508 9.4
South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 303 9.4
Akron, OH 661 9.4
Salinas, CA 408 9.4
Michigan City-La Porte, IN 103 9.4
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 881 9.4
Appleton, WI 222 9.3
Bremerton-Silverdale, WA 251 9.3
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre--Hazleton, PA 516 9.3
Monroe, LA 164 9.3
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 1,900 9.3
Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 528 9.2
Green Bay, WI 296 9.2
Victoria, TX 91 9.1
Rockford, IL 306 9.1
Joplin, MO 162 9.1
St. Louis, MO-IL 2,528 9.0
Canton-Massillon, OH 359 9.0
Muncie, IN 103 9.0
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,791 9.0
Pocatello, ID 78 9.0
Wichita Falls, TX 135 8.9
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 752 8.9
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 954 8.9
Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, VA 164 8.9
New Orleans-Metairie, LA 1,131 8.9
Wilmington, NC 262 8.9
Lewiston, ID-WA 56 8.9
Richmond, VA 1,143 8.8
Grand Junction, CO 134 8.7
Chico, CA 202 8.7
Austin-Round Rock, TX 1,888 8.7
Springfield, OH 117 8.7
Gainesville, FL 250 8.7
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 738 8.7
Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ 230 8.7
Prescott, AZ 201 8.7
Macon-Bibb County, GA 199 8.7
Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV 230 8.6
Reading, PA 360 8.6
Kankakee, IL 94 8.5
San Angelo, TX 102 8.5
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 8,089 8.5
Kokomo, IN 70 8.5
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 1,850 8.4
Racine, WI 166 8.4
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 1,629 8.4
Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC 183 8.4
Kansas City, MO-KS 1,799 8.4
Rome, GA 82 8.4
Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 98 8.4
Farmington, NM 104 8.3
Lynchburg, VA 219 8.3
St. Joseph, MO-KS 105 8.3
Lebanon, PA 117 8.3
Albuquerque, NM 756 8.3
Reno, NV 387 8.2
Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ 124 8.2
Winchester, VA-WV 114 8.2
Raleigh, NC 1,110 8.1
Owensboro, KY 97 8.1
Columbia, SC 678 8.1
Athens-Clarke County, GA 172 8.1
Grants Pass, OR 71 8.1
Tyler, TX 187 8.1
Brunswick, GA 96 8.1
Janesville-Beloit, WI 132 8.1
Longview, WA 88 8.1
Jackson, MI 128 8.1
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 1,045 8.1
Waco, TX 217 8.0
Elkhart-Goshen, IN 164 8.0
Johnson City, TN 161 7.9
Pueblo, CO 132 7.9
York-Hanover, PA 353 7.9
Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH 277 7.9
Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 174 7.8
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 902 7.8
Danville, IL 60 7.8
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 2,564 7.7
Baton Rouge, LA 635 7.6
Oklahoma City, OK 1,066 7.6
Amarillo, TX 203 7.6
Greensboro-High Point, NC 585 7.6
Boise City, ID 556 7.6
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 288 7.6
Albany, GA 116 7.6
Coeur d'Alene, ID 122 7.6
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 620 7.5
Twin Falls, ID 83 7.5
Gadsden, AL 77 7.5
Longview, TX 164 7.5
Chattanooga, TN-GA 419 7.5
Knoxville, TN 655 7.4
Idaho Falls, ID 110 7.4
Wichita, KS 476 7.4
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 9,794 7.4
Colorado Springs, CO 543 7.3
Lubbock, TX 234 7.3
Yakima, WA 182 7.2
Charleston-North Charleston, SC 568 7.2
Springfield, MO 333 7.1
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 218 7.1
Bowling Green, KY 126 7.1
Muskegon, MI 123 7.1
East Stroudsburg, PA 120 7.1
Tulsa, OK 703 7.1
Salt Lake City, UT 864 7.1
Savannah, GA 275 7.1
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 3,044 7.0
Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 305 7.0
Jackson, TN 90 7.0
Kennewick-Richland, WA 204 6.9
Florence, SC 141 6.9
Sherman-Denison, TX 92 6.9
Lake Charles, LA 144 6.9
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 305 6.8
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 922 6.8
College Station-Bryan, TX 178 6.8
Sumter, SC 72 6.8
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 3,991 6.7
Sierra Vista-Douglas, AZ 85 6.7
Dothan, AL 99 6.7
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 270 6.6
Hattiesburg, MS 98 6.6
Fort Smith, AR-OK 185 6.6
Tucson, AZ 678 6.5
Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville, AL 74 6.5
Flint, MI 263 6.5
Yuba City, CA 113 6.5
Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC 583 6.4
Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL 318 6.4
Corpus Christi, TX 291 6.4
Alexandria, LA 98 6.4
Greenville, NC 114 6.3
Lafayette, LA 309 6.3
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 1,081 6.3
Jacksonville, FL 958 6.2
Rocky Mount, NC 91 6.2
Beckley, WV 73 6.2
Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL 173 6.2
Houma-Thibodaux, LA 129 6.2
Madera, CA 97 6.2
Fresno, CA 610 6.1
California-Lexington Park, MD 69 6.1
Monroe, MI 92 6.1
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 224 6.1
Las Cruces, NM 132 6.1
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 1,558 6.1
Texarkana, TX-AR 91 6.1
Dover, DE 108 6.0
Huntsville, AL 279 6.0
Greeley, CO 189 6.0
Goldsboro, NC 74 6.0
Tuscaloosa, AL 146 6.0
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 361 6.0
Visalia-Porterville, CA 277 5.9
New Bern, NC 74 5.9
Cleveland, TN 73 5.9
Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL 86 5.8
Homosassa Springs, FL 86 5.8
Jonesboro, AR 77 5.8
Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL 125 5.7
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 1,795 5.7
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 4,281 5.7
Panama City, FL 114 5.7
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 427 5.7
Burlington, NC 94 5.6
Columbus, GA-AL 171 5.6
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO 307 5.6
Gainesville, GA 113 5.6
Modesto, CA 305 5.5
Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS 220 5.5
Decatur, AL 84 5.5
Punta Gorda, FL 102 5.5
Spartanburg, SC 188 5.5
Sebring, FL 58 5.5
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 3,407 5.5
Hanford-Corcoran, CA 83 5.5
Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY 84 5.5
Valdosta, GA 80 5.5
Stockton-Lodi, CA 411 5.5
Logan, UT-ID 76 5.4
Port St. Lucie, FL 260 5.4
Dalton, GA 77 5.3
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 315 5.3
Auburn-Opelika, AL 85 5.2
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 1,326 5.2
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 1,273 5.1
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 3,515 5.0
Odessa, TX 81 5.0
Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 329 5.0
Bakersfield, CA 445 5.0
Hammond, LA 66 4.9
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 2,384 4.9
El Centro, CA 89 4.9
Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC 223 4.6
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 328 4.6
Killeen-Temple, TX 207 4.6
Clarksville, TN-KY 133 4.6
Merced, CA 122 4.4
Warner Robins, GA 85 4.4
St. George, UT 74 4.3
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 1,941 4.2
Ogden-Clearfield, UT 269 4.0
Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ 83 4.0
Yuma, AZ 81 3.8
Ocala, FL 137 3.8
Lawton, OK 48 3.8
Fayetteville, NC 143 3.7
Provo-Orem, UT 209 3.3
Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 138 3.3
Hinesville, GA 26 3.2
El Paso, TX 271 3.2
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 705 3.2
Jacksonville, NC 62 3.1
Laredo, TX 80 2.9
The Villages, FL 34 2.6
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 204 2.4

SOURCE: Governing analysis of data published by National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2018 IRS Business Master Files

 

About the Data

Data reflects nonprofits aimed at serving communities and local areas. Nonprofits serving primarily support functions to other organizations were excluded from our analysis as well as those classified with the following IRS activity codes: Animal-related, nursing facilities and nursing-related, health associations and medical disciplines, medical research, homeowners and tenants associations, student services, amateur sports and pro athletic leagues, international/foreign affairs/national security, science and technology, social science, military, fire prevention, consumer protection, religion-related, private and corporate foundations, named trusts, mutual and membership benefit. Organizations not filing with the IRS the past two years and those reporting less than $25,000 in gross receipts are also excluded.