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“Native Nonprofits Saved Indian Country” New Report Finds Native Organizations Critical to Protecting Culture, Sovereignty & Economic Growth

July 1, 2016


“Native Nonprofits Saved Indian Country”
New Report Finds Native Organizations Critical to Protecting Culture, Sovereignty & Economic Growth

LONGMONT, Colorado (June 22, 2016) – In rural and urban Native communities across North America, Native-led nonprofit organizations are experiencing a golden age of growth and development. Faced with a broad array of challenges and opportunities, nonprofit organizations led by community members are finding local solutions to local problems.  A new report from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) explores the history of Native and non-Native-led nonprofits in Indian Country and shares findings from interviews with key leaders in the Native nonprofit sector. The report also draws upon a unique dataset to empirically assess the types of nonprofits serving Indian Country as well as some characteristics of Native-led nonprofits.

Funded by the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) and titled A Case for the Native Nonprofit Sector: Advocating for Cultural, Economic and Community Change, the report looks at the nonprofit sector in eight states that are home to 76 tribal nations. It found that Native nonprofits in these states have been successfully advocating for cultural, economic and community change and continue to contribute to community-building and cultural expression. The interviews with Native nonprofit leaders reveal the ways in which the Native nonprofit sector has protected traditional cultures and advocated for American Indian legal, political and economic rights. “I think that the Native nonprofit sector in many ways … saved Indian Country,” shared Rick Williams, former president of the American Indian College Fund, who was interviewed for the report.

The report also includes an analysis of data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which provides the founding dates of nonprofits, their locations, and the types of services they provide. The dataset also includes a range of financial data. The analysis revealed that while nonprofits located in counties with a significant Native American population (at least 10%) hold $2 billion in revenue and more than $3 billion in assets, they have lower revenues and assets than other counties in the region. Furthermore, religion-related nonprofits take up a much larger share of nonprofits located in rural Native American counties (33%) than other counties.  Additionally, rural counties with a larger Native American population are more likely to be home to nonprofits that focus on human services, youth development, and community improvement and capacity-building.

The report also explores the characteristics of Native-led nonprofits. The research indicates that the Native-led nonprofit sector is younger than the non-Native sector – the majority of Native-led nonprofits were founded after 1975 – and the Native-led nonprofit sector appears to be more likely to focus on human services, arts and culture, and education than the non-Native nonprofit sector.

Overall, the report corroborates previous research that found that the Native nonprofit sector is characterized as being young and relatively under-resourced. Previous research also has found that the Native nonprofit sector is disproportionately funded by federal grants and mostly providing education, art/culture or social service programs. Most important, this report corroborates previous research that suggests that the Native nonprofit sector is vital to local economic vitality and is nurturing the next generation of American Indian leaders and supporting self-determination for tribes and tribal leaders.

“This report uncovers the tremendous work being done by the Native nonprofit sector.  Not only do these organizations bring in significant revenue for the local economy, but they serve a multitude of roles that support Native community vitality and resiliency,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “Still, their lack of funding and relatively young existence demonstrate that the Native nonprofit sector requires greater support from funders, donors and capacity-builders.”

The report concludes with a list of existing programs and models that assist in the growth of the Native nonprofit sector and a set of implications for action to continue supporting the Native nonprofit sector.

The full report is available as a free download from the First Nations online Knowledge Center at http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center: (Note: You may have to create a free account if you don’t already have one in order to download the report.)

About First Nations Development Institute
For more than 35 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information about First Nations, visit www.firstnations.org.


Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs
sdewees@firstnations.org or (540) 371-5615

Randy Blauvelt, First Nations’ Senior Communications Officer
rblauvelt@firstnations.org or (303) 774-7836 x213

Last modified: March 21, 2023