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Civic Vitality


The civic vitality of Boston—its organizational infrastructure, civic engagement and trusting relationships that underpin a vibrant, open and informed city—has strengthened in some areas while declining in others.  Voter participation reached the highest level in nearly a half century, use of the Boston Public Library grew in 2007 and 2008, particularly in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, and Bostonians logged more volunteer hours than in nearly 20 years.  However, Greater Boston remains less racially and ethnically inclusive than some other parts of the nation and new technologies, in combination with the recession, threatened the viability of major newspapers, with the potential loss of a shared frame of reference and “civic glue.”

Print Civic Vitality Summary


Civic vitality reflects the quality of social infrastructure—networks of organizations and institutions, community gathering places, bonds of friendship and neighborliness, civility and collegiality, access to information, opportunities for civic and electoral engagement, philanthropic giving —that together create a welcoming, engaged, informed, and inclusive society. In Greater Boston, this infrastructure includes free public forums, two major regional newspapers, 25 neighborhood and more than 100 community newspapers, 24 ethnically-focused publications and a growing number of “new media” information sources as well as a network of public libraries, In Boston, the Boston Public Library   and its 28 neighborhood branches. Much of Greater Boston’s robustness depends on a “third sector” 3,000 nonprofit organizations ranging in focus from civic engagement such as  Boston Cares MassVote  and the  Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians  to community development corporations, community health centers, arts and human service organizations that together encourage and provide opportunities for engagement, participation and exchange among all members of the Greater Boston community. Overall, Massachusetts is home to more than 35,000 nonprofit organizations.


Key Trends
  • Boston continues to become a more diverse city with high rates of social capital and civic engagment and increasing opportunities for building the collaborative gene.
Accomplishments & Developments
  • Boston's Civic Vitality has been punctuated by record voter turnout for the historical election of President Barack Obama, the near-loss of The Boston Globe and fall-out from the economic recession.
  • The economic recession has created a "perfect storm" of declining revenue and public and private funding for nonprofits and social services at a time of increasing need in Boston and Massachusetts.
Social and organizational networking for neighborhoods
Neighbors 4 Neighbors
  Boston Metro Innovations

National/International Innovations
New @ Indicators
2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey
The 9th annual Nonprofit Fundraising Survey finds 37% of charitable organizations reported decreased giving in 2010 while a near equal 36% reported increased giving, particularly among larger organizations.  Major factors cited for declining giving include smaller gifts, fewer individual donations. 

World Religions in Greater Boston
  World Religions Boston

The Pluralism Project at Harvard University has launched an online guidebook of its longest-running publication: World Religions in Greater Boston.  This resource features interactive maps, a searchable database and comprehensive directory of Greater Boston's religious centers, traditions and histories. 

Passion & Purpose: Raising the Fiscal Fitness Bar for Massachusetts Nonprofits

Passion & Purpose: Raising the Fiscal Fitness Bar for Massachusetts Nonprofits is both a primer on the state's nonprofit organizations and a call to action. It aims to further the understanding of Massachusetts nonprofits and the values they provide, as well as take a hard look at the sector to underscore the importance of financial health as a necessary and critical condition to meeting its public purpose. The report calls upon all stakeholders-government, foundations, investors and nonprofits themselves-to raise the fiscal fitness bar by looking at strategies, practices and policies to strengthen the Massachusetts nonprofit sector so that it can continue to serve as a powerful 'glue' for our communities, an expression of our values, and an important contributor to our state's competitive edge.

Data on Volunteering
Corporation for National and Community Service,  Volunteering in America  (07/2008): Provides data at the national, state and city level about the level of volunteering, with Boston ranking 34th among the 50 largest cities.

A Primer on Massachusetts Taxes
Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center,  Understanding Our Tax System: A Primer for Active Citizens  (03/2008): Provides an overview of the Massachusetts tax system and provides insight on what the average citizen can do to assess tax policy.

The Status of Asian American Non-Profits
UMB Institute for Asian American Studies,  Asian American Non-Profit Organizations in US Metropolitan Areas  (01/2008): Using Federal 990 data, provides a picture of Asian American non-profit in America's 10 largest metro areas.

Report on Women's Representation in State Government
UMB Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy,  Women of Talent: Gender and Government Appointments in Massachusetts, 2002-2007  (11/2007): Although representation of women in high-level state positions has improved since 2002, the state ranks 22nd among the 50 states on this measure.

Study of Racial/Ethnic & Gender Diversity on Corporate, Hospital, Education, Cultural & State Boards
U-Mass Boston Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy, A Seat at the Table? Racial/Ethnic & Gender Diversity on Corporate, Hospital, Education, Cultural & State Boards (05/07): This study found that there are low levels of diversity on the boards of the different types of institutions studied, with corporations being the least diverse (both in terms of gender and race/ethnicity), and cultural institutions being more diverse, especially in terms of gender.

Benchmark Report on Diversity in State and Local Government
U-Mass Boston Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy, A Benchmark Report on Diversity in State and Local Government (02/07): Focusing on Boston and nine other Greater Boston communities, the report finds that representation of people of color in local elected and appointed offices does not equal the percent of people of color in these communities, with the exception of appointments in Boston and Somerville.

Harvard School of Public Health
Harvard School of Public Health has introduced its new website, www.diversity , which provides detailed summaries and comparative data for America's metropolitan areas on issues related to race/ethnicity and quality of life.

Report on Low-Income Asian Americans in Massachusetts
U-Mass Boston Institute for Asian American Studies, Far from the Commonwealth: A Report on Low-Income Asian Americans in Massachusetts (01/07) (pdf): Highlights low-income Asian Americans in Massachusetts. Many Asian American sub-groups have higher unemployment and poverty rates and lower levels of educational attainment than other racial/ethnic groups.