Mission and Purpose

The National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise (NCNE) is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit corporation whose mission is “to help nonprofit organizations make wise economic decisions”. NCNE addresses this mission by mobilizing and applying an advanced knowledge base consisting of research publications and teaching tools and a national network of expert scholars who study the economics and strategic management of nonprofit organizations and other social enterprises.

Given the economic challenges faced by nonprofit organizations stemming from long term economic and social developments such as the slow growth of charitable giving, recent and impending government retrenchments and stock market instability, including lingering effects of the great recession of 2008-2009, NCNE’s mission is more important now than ever. In addition, the prospective constituencies for NCNE’s work have greatly expanded given the diversity of nongovernmental organizational forms emerging to address social problems, including social enterprises, social cooperatives, social purpose businesses, and public/private partnerships. In all these cases, enterprises struggle to address important social goals in a manner that is economically sustainable in the marketplace. In the present environment, virtually every nonprofit organization and social enterprise is challenged to remain fiscally sound, address its mission effectively and achieve long run economic stability.

The special assets of NCNE are three-fold:

  1. a unique set of books and other publications written by NCNE affiliated scholars which address manifold advanced topics in the development, stewardship and management of economic resources of nonprofit organizations;
  2. a comprehensive web-based electronic knowledge base on topics related to resource-related decision making of nonprofit organizations; and
  3. an affiliated network of nonprofit economics, management and social enterprise scholars who participate in NCNE activities and services. These scholars are thought leaders in their respective areas of expertise.

The content of NCNE’s services and expertise is conceptually broad, encompassing good practices and strategies for nonprofit financial health, growth and sustainability, organizational arrangements and structures supportive of economic stability and mission impact, and analysis of the impacts and implications of public policy for nonprofit sustainability and effectiveness.

Within these themes, diverse topics include:

  • pricing of program services;
  • revenue generation strategies;
  • cost/benefit and social return on investment analysis;
  • social accounting;
  • risk management strategies;
  • capital accumulation and stewardship of assets;
  • analysis of competition and collaboration in economic markets;
  • labor compensation analysis;
  • outsourcing and contracting strategies;
  • assessment of product and income portfolios;
  • social enterprise models;
  • performance assessment;
  • impacts of taxation, regulation and other public policies.

The focus of activity for NCNE going forward will be concentrated in four main areas, reflecting recent research and publications of its principals and members of its network of experts:

  1. Income Strategies for Economic Sustainability and Growth of Nonprofit Organizations. This reflects recent work on the “benefits theory” of nonprofit and social enterprise finance which ties the mission of an organization to the specific composition of its income support from a variety of sources including philanthropy, earned income, government support and investment returns.
    For example, the venerable social service institution known as Hull House in Chicago recently failed. One of its vulnerabilities was its almost exclusive dependence on one stream of government funding. Had it developed a more robust income portfolio, including philanthropic support and fee for service programs that reflected its broader base of community and service beneficiaries, it might have survived and thrived.
  2. Analysis of Options for Development of Social Enterprises. This reflects recent work on the “social enterprise zoo”, a paradigm that recognizes that social purpose organizations can balance mission achievement and financial profitability in diverse ways to achieve both economic sustainability and returns on investment, and mission impact.
    For example, MedWish International, based in Cleveland, collects surplus medical supplies from health care providers and distributes them to hospitals and clinics in less developed countries. While the supplies are free, MedWish generates an income stream by charging fees for packaging and delivery and from sponsorships of every container that is shipped. This model, which converts in-kind donations into profitable but mission-related revenue applies to other market-based social enterprises including Goodwill Industries, thrift shops and food and tool banks.
  3. Public-private partnerships. This reflects recent work emphasizing the increasing prominence of organizational networks and collaborations to address complex social issues such as neighborhood economic development or poverty alleviation, and strategies to grow, manage and sustain collaborative networks and partnership arrangements.
    For example, Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland addresses inner city poverty alleviation through a partnership of major nonprofit institutions including the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, by investing in worker-based cooperative local businesses such as Green City Growers, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and The Ohio Solar Cooperative. The partnership connects traditional charitable nonprofits and local government with small, worker owned and managed, profit-making businesses.
  4. Application of basic micro- economic principals to improve the efficiency of nonprofit management decisions such as the pricing of services, compensation of employees or investment of operating , reserve, and endowment funds. These principals include analysis at the margin, opportunity cost analysis, demand and supply analysis, and decision tree and game theory analysis.
    For example, several prominent nonprofit institutions, facing fiscal stress, such as Cooper Union College and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have recently decided to implement fee structures to support their mainstream services. Unlike pricing in the business sector, nonprofit pricing must be sensitive to a variety of nonmarket (as well as market) factors including the ability to pay of low income clientele, and the organization’s history, culture and mission-based philosophy.

Sustaining Revenue Development

  • Membership fees from individuals and institutions. NCNE will offer memberships to organizations and to individual managers, leaders, students, and other interested parties, in exchange for access to specialized portions of NCNE’s knowledge base, an on-line service for answering specific resource-related questions on a timely basis, and priority for contracting with NCNE for workshops, team consultations and training programs. A major emphasis of NCNE will be to strengthen the member network and provide value to them and to work with local partner organizations to expand their own programming offerings;
  • Sponsorships and Research grants. NCNE will seek research grants with nonprofit funding institutions that seek to expand the knowledge base or answer specific questions of general interest to the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors. These research projects would be carried by teams assembled from NCNE’s network of expert scholars.
  • Philanthropy and operations grants. NCNE is positioned as a general resource for the nonprofit community on issues of effective development and use of economic resources. As such it will seek ongoing support from local and national foundations.
  • Contracted program revenues. NCNE will contract with umbrella groups, foundations and university centers to provide paid consultations, customized training workshops, consultations with expert teams, and other informational services, for their affiliates, community groups, and networks of grantees.
  • In-Kind support, including volunteer student (intern) participation from local universities, and office space and support from Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs.


  • Build a locally based board of directors of at least 12 prominent members of the nonprofit, business and public sector communities, including leaders of potential partner organizations
  • Form a local advisory board of nonprofit, philanthropic and other community leaders
  • Continue to build and enhance the NCNE website and associated knowledge base (nationalcne.org)
  • Create a formal calendar of events, programs and products
  • Develop an annual survey of local nonprofits to track their fiscal health and how well they are prepared for making effective resource-related decisions
  • Explore the design a big data project with statistics on closures, mergers, growth or contraction, of a sample of local nonprofits

Selected References

  • Woods Bowman, Finance Fundamentals for Nonprofits, John Wiley & Sons, 2011
  • Joseph J. Cordes and C. Eugene Steuerle (eds.), Nonprofits & Business, The Urban Institute Press, 2009
  • Alex Nicholls, Rob Pat and Jed Emerson, (eds.), Social Finance, Oxford University Press, 2015
  • Bruce A. Seaman and Dennis R. Young (eds.), Handbook of Research on Nonprofit Economics and Management, 2nd edition, Edward Elgar Publishers, 2018 (forthcoming)
  • Dennis R. Young (ed.), Financing Nonprofits, National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise and AltaMira Press, 2007
  • Dennis R. Young, Elizabeth A.M. Searing and Cassady V. Brewer (eds.), The Social Enterprise Zoo, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016
  • Dennis R. Young, Financing Nonprofits and Other Social Enterprises, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017
  • Dennis R. Young, Richard Steinberg, Rosemarie Emanuele and Walter Simmons, Economics for Nonprofit Managers and Social Entrepreneurs, 2nd edition, Edward Elgar Publishing, (forthcoming), 2018
  • Stuart C. Mendel and Jeffrey L. Brudney, Partnerships the Nonprofit Way: What Works, What Doesn’t. Indiana University Press, (forthcoming) 2018.


NCNE is organized as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its operations and success have been tied to supportive university-based venues including George Mason University, the Virginia Institute of Technology, and James Madison University, and has built strong partnerships with expert faculty from a wide range of other universities including Case Western Reserve, George Washington University, the University of Pittsburgh, Georgia State University, Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Georgetown University, Baruch College, and the University of Southern California.

Since its founding in 1998, NCNE has produced numerous and important books, convened three major conferences, and provided general consultation and training programs in partnership with a number of university nonprofit centers and national organizations, including the Foundation Center, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Given the economic challenges faced by nonprofit organizations stemming from long term economic and social developments, such as the slowing of charitable giving, government retrenchments and stock market gyrations, as well as the lingering effects of the great recession of 2008-2009, NCNE’s mission is now more important than ever. The prospective constituencies for NCNE’s work has greatly expanded given the diversity of nongovernmental organizational forms emerging to address social problems, including social enterprises, social cooperatives, social purpose businesses, and public-private partnerships. In all these cases, enterprises struggle to address important social goals in a manner that is economically sustainable in the marketplace.