In search of the non-profit sector II: The problem of classification

Lester M. Salamon, Helmut K. Anheier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Building on a previous Voluntas article (Salamon and Anheier, 1992b), which formulated a systematic approach to defining the non-profit sector for purposes of comparative research, this article takes on the complementary task of formulating a classification system that can be used to differentiate systematically the types of non-profit organisations that exist at the global level. To do so, the article first assesses a number of existing classification systems, such as the International Standard Industrial Classification and the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities. Finding these systems inadequate, the article then introduces an alternative system, which we term the International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations (ICNPO). The ICNPO classifies non-profit establishments into 12 major groups based on their primary economic activity, and then further sub-divides these into 24 sub-groups. The result is a system that scores high in terms of five key evaluation criteria: economy, significance, rigour, organising power, and richness. What is more, initial tests of the ICNPO in a set of countries show that it performs well in coming to terms with the diverse types of non-profit institutions that exist around the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-309
Number of pages43
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Strategy and Management


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