Survey Overview (FY 2020 Survey Cycle)

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The Nonprofit Research Activities (NPRA) module of the Annual Business Survey collects information on research and experimental development (R&D) performed or funded by nonprofit organizations in the United States.

Data collection authority.

Title 13, United States Code, Sections 8(b), 131, and 182; Title 42, United States Code, Section 1861-76 (National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended); and Section 505 within the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, authorize this collection. Sections 224 and 225 of Title 13 require mandatory response. Office of Management and Budget No. 0607-1004.

Major changes to the recent survey cycle.

Not applicable.

Key Survey Information

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Initial survey year.

2021. (The questions in the FY 2020 module were first developed and used on the FY 2016 Nonprofit Research Activities Survey, which was the first national survey of R&D activities in the U.S. nonprofit population since 1997. Due to the differences between the previous surveys and the new module, 2021 is considered the initial survey year for the annual series.)

Reference period.

Fiscal year 2020.

Response unit.


Sample or census.


Population size.

48,500 organizations.

Sample size.

8,000 organizations.

Key variables.

Key variables of interest are listed below.

  • R&D expenditures by source of funds (federal government, state and local government, business, foundations, universities, other nonprofits, internal funds, individual donors, and other)

  • R&D expenditures by type of R&D (basic research, applied research, and experimental development)

  • R&D expenditures by field of R&D (agricultural sciences and natural resources and conservation; biological, biomedical, and health sciences; engineering; geosciences, atmospheric sciences, and ocean sciences; mathematics, statistics, and computer and information sciences; physical sciences; psychology and social sciences; humanities; and other fields)

  • Headcounts and full-time equivalent counts of R&D personnel (researchers, technicians, and other support personnel)

  • Headcounts for contract employees and volunteers working on research activities

  • R&D funding provided to others, by type of funding (grants and contracts vs. subawards and subcontracts)

Survey Design

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Target population.

Included are all businesses with at least one in-scope location filing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990 as a tax-exempt organization and with FY 2019 annual payroll of $500,000 or more.

Sampling frame.

The sampling frame was constructed from the final 2019 Business Register and the Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract (EO BMF). The Business Register is the Census Bureau's comprehensive database of U.S. businesses. Organizations were excluded from the frame if they were considered outside the scope of the survey (e.g., churches, government organizations, educational institutions, or organizations located outside the United States). A financial threshold was also imposed to increase the efficiency of reaching organizations that perform research.

Sample design.

The nonprofit R&D frame is stratified by state and primary type of organization (hospitals, other health care, science/technology, and all others). Within these strata some nonprofits were selected with certainty based on the following criteria:

  • firms with known R&D activity (1,000 organizations)
  • firms larger than stratum-specific payroll cutoffs (1,200 organizations)

The nonprofit R&D sample consisted of 8,000 organizations; 2,200 were selected with certainty.

The remaining 5,800 noncertainty cases were selected using the systematic stratified random sample selection. The maximum sample weight was 8.3.

Data Collection and Processing

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Data collection.

The survey was mailed to 8,000 nonprofit organizations in July 2021. Organizations were sent a letter informing them of their requirement to report under Title 13, United States Code, Sections 224 and 225. The letter also provided instructions on how to access the survey and submit online. There were three mail follow-ups conducted to increase response. The third mail follow-up included a paper questionnaire for select nonrespondents.

Additionally, the Census Bureau conducted email follow-ups to respondents who logged into the electronic system but did not submit the questionnaire. The collection period closed in January 2022.

Data processing.

Prior to tabulating the data, response data were reviewed and edited with both automated and manual procedures to correct reporting errors. R&D data were tabulated for records reporting $50,000 or more in R&D expenditures. Survey analysts reviewed the R&D reported by the survey respondents. Research was done by evaluating the reported R&D to expenses ratio and the organization website information.

Additional data errors were detected and corrected using an automated data edit system designed to review the data for reasonableness and consistency. The editing process interactively performed corrections by using standard procedures to fix detectable errors. Quality control techniques were used to verify that operating procedures were carried out as specified.

Estimation techniques.

Where possible, missing data were imputed using previous survey data or publicly available documents such as annual reports and financial statements. Weights were used to account for unequal probabilities of selection, nonresponse, and to calibrate sample estimates of expenses to match total expenses on the frame. Measures of sampling variability were estimated using the delete-a-group jackknife variance estimator.

Survey Quality Measures

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Sampling error.

Estimates of sampling errors associated with the detailed statistical tables will be available by request.

Coverage error.

Coverage error occurs when the frame fails to completely enumerate the population of interest. There can be both undercoverage error, where units are not included in the frame, and overcoverage error, where units included in the frame are out of scope for the population of interest. The ABS uses the prior-year Business Register to construct the frame so any changes in businesses that would change the inclusion or exclusion of the business to the survey scope could be sources of coverage error. Prior to tabulation, the survey unit's information is updated with the most recent available Business Register data to mitigate this source of error.

Nonresponse error.

Unit nonresponse is handled by adjusting weighted reported and imputed data by multiplying each organization's sampling weight by a nonresponse adjustment factor. Detailed descriptions of the adjustments for nonresponse are available in the Technical Notes accompanying the data tables.

Measurement error.

The most common source of measurement error was reporting in different units (for example, reporting in whole dollars rather than in thousands of dollars). This was corrected during data processing. Another source of error involved incorrect inclusion of organizations already represented in different R&D data collections. The R&D of these respondents was set to 0 where it was determined their R&D was already represented in other survey responses. These cases included nonprofit organizations managing federal laboratories and some university-affiliated hospitals.

Data Availability and Comparability

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Data availability.

Data are available at

Data comparability.

The questions in the FY 2020 module were first developed and used on the FY 2016 Nonprofit Research Activities Survey, which was the first national survey of R&D activities in the U.S. nonprofit population since 1997. Due to the differences between the previous surveys and the new module, data are not comparable for trend analysis.

Data Products

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NPRA data will be published in NCSES InfoBriefs and data tables available at

Electronic access.

The NPRA module contains confidential data that are protected under Title 13 and Title 26 of the United States Code. Two types of data are currently available: public-use tabular statistics and restricted microdata. Public-use tabular statistics can be obtained on the NCSES Web site ( and by contacting NCSES. Restricted microdata will be available at any of the 15 secure Research Data Centers administered by the Center for Economic Studies (CES) at the Census Bureau. Researchers interested in accessing microdata can apply for a restricted-use license by submitting a proposal to the CES, which evaluates proposals based on their benefit to the Census Bureau, scientific merit, feasibility, and risk of disclosure. To learn more about the Research Data Centers and how to apply, please visit the CES page on research with restricted-use data. For additional information about the application process, including how to initiate a project, please contact the administrator at the primary site where the research will be conducted. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, the data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit the data.

Contact Information

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For additional information about this survey, or the methodology report, contact the Survey Manager.

Ronda Britt
Survey Manager
Tel: (703) 292-7765

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (703) 292-8780
FIRS: (800) 877-8339
TDD: (800) 281-8749