For decades, nonprofit organizations have played an increasingly central role in social justice campaigns in the United States, providing legal support, advocacy, and public education. Unlike the mid-20th century movements that once led such work, nonprofits are often the primary drivers of these campaigns today. By the end of the last century, the unions and large civic organizations once central to American civic life were in a steep decline. The student and church-led civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s had likewise dissipated. Advocacy nonprofits filled the gap.

Meanwhile, income inequality has steadily risen. Frequently cited as a major contributing factor to decreased social mobility, such inequality is also increasingly seen as a threat to representative democracy—core issues of many social justice movements today. But as part of the larger nonprofit sector, left-leaning social justice nonprofits have a complicated if largely hidden relationship to income inequality. Understanding this relationship is crucial to effectively shaping the evolution of the nonprofit sector and the movements we support.

The past three decades have seen an explosion in the nonprofit sector’s size and diversity. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.6 million registered nonprofit organizations in the US today, up from less than 400,000 in 1967. As nonprofits have proliferated, they have also grown larger in scope, workforce, and budgets. Between 1977 and 1999, the number of Americans employed by nonprofits nearly doubled to 9.7 million; 10 percent of the American workforce is now in the nonprofit sector.

Read the full article about reimagining the nonprofit sector by Devon Kearney at Nonprofit Quarterly.