Types of Nonprofits in the United States

Cersai Stark

Cersai Stark

Nongovernmental organizations are established to support and enhance social change. These institutions seek to solve and address the needs and interests of individuals as well as societies.

The many types of nonprofits that exist in the United States have become key players in advancing the cause of humanity. This is because they spread across a wide range of activities. Throughout history, we have seen how civil societies have advanced the cause of free expression, equality, environmental cases, and transparency.

Nonprofits in the US reflect a long line of history that has shaped and continues to shape the country’s system. The United States stands out for its firm belief in the power of democracy that advocates a robust civil society. This includes the autonomous rule of state and government control in civil society organizations.

In this article, we will provide a brief overview of the types of nonprofits in the US and their legislative framework.


Types of Nonprofits
Types of Nonprofits


  • The United States stands out for its firm belief in the power of democracy that advocates a robust civil society
  • There are at least 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States
  • Many nonprofit entities in the US are entitled to federal and state tax exemptions.

What are nonprofits?

In America, Nonprofit organizations (NPO) can be described as non-business entities created with the sole intention to further the cause of humanity or advocate a common goal. As a nongovernmental organization, the primary objective is not to generate profit but to address issues in society. Hence, they are exempted from tax deductions.

What are the types of nonprofits in the United States? 

The IRS’s 501(c) code reveals two primary types of nonprofits in the United States. They are:

  • Nonprofit organizations (NPO) and
  • Not-for-profit organizations (NFPO)


The NPO is recognized as a corporation that caters to the welfare of the public via goods and services. 

NFPOs on the other hand cater to the needs of just a member group. A not-for-profit entity may also serve the purpose of more private-focused members or groups.

501(c)(3) are also known as charitable organizations. They include foundations, corporations, or funds that serve a religious, educational, scientific, literary or charitable course. Two main 501(c)(3) categories exist in the US: 

  • Public Charities and 
  • Private Foundations


Public charities obtain their support from both the government and the general public. Also, public charity donations are usually tax-deductible. Private foundations in contrast use grants to accomplish a public objective. They are not authorized to take part in direct lobbying activities. Tax deduction however applies to contributions made to private foundations. 

What types of nonprofits are exempted from Taxes?

The U.S. Internal Revenue Code outlines various tax-exempt groups. We will consider a few of them. 

  1. Section 501(c)(4): Civic leagues and social welfare organizations, volunteer fire companies, and homeowner associations are types of nonprofits that fall into this category
  2. Section 501(c)(5): This category primarily comprises labour unions
  3. Section 501(c)(6): They include chambers of commerce
  4. Section 501(c)(7): This category includes Social and Recreational Clubs. 
  5. Section 501(k): This group is made up of childcare-related organizations.


Many nonprofit entities in the United States are entitled to federal and state tax exemptions. This allows for seamless operation as an NGO. In the case where an NGO is created for political objectives, the tax exemptions provided by the IRS are quite limited.

How many nonprofits are In the US?

The National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), reveals that there are at least 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. The diverse types of nonprofits constitute public charities, private foundations, and other types of nonprofit entities including civic leagues, chambers of commerce, and fraternal organizations. 

The nongovernmental workforce in the United States is made up of over 11.4 million workers. These numerous types of nonprofit entities are known to address social and economic issues that cannot be solely handled by the government. This includes political activities such as women’s rights, foreign policy, environmental issues, health care, and many other related matters. 

The enormous projects undertaken by the various types of nonprofits in the US have provided millions of jobs to Americans. They also represent quite a large portion of the nation’s GDP. NGOs generally exist to tackle diverse causes that pervade humanity. 

What are the regulatory systems for US types of nonprofit entities?

The legislative framework of the United States indicates that a group of individuals may come together to establish a colloquial institution to address issues of common interests. This can occur without the interference or consent of the government.

However, in the case where the group desires special legal privileges such as federal and state tax exemption, they are required to officially incorporate and register the entity under US laws. The U.S. law provides security that allows for freedom of expression and association of NGOs. Individuals who are not US citizens can also create a new NGO.

Although requirements for registrations differ in each state, they are nonetheless relatively easy. Generally, the nonprofit entity is required to provide a brief description of the organization, its name, its purpose, an agent’s address within the state, and a small fee.

Some states give a federal incorporation statute providing a routing matter not subject to any legislature or government official approval. In other states, some NGOs established for charitable purposes such as education and religion must register with a state charity official responsible for securing charitable assets. The charity official also regulates the charitable petition of funds from the public.

Nonprofits, particularly charitable 501(c)(3) organizations may have some operating restrictions imposed on them including IRS rules. These restrictions may be in the area of excessive compensation, distribution activities, limited lobbying and political activities. There are also restrictions on some activities in the area of commerce and investment.

The state may likewise impose governance restrictions. This could be to address the issue of the least number of governing body members or restriction on the number of governing body members that may receive compensation. 

Key highlights of the nonprofits in the United States

The 2022 Quarterly Review of the US Nonprofit Sector was published on the 30th of September. It underlined the contributions of various types of nonprofits in the US. This comprises the sector’s human capital, economic contributions, and advocacy activity.

The report reveals a decline in the number of donors to U.S. nonprofits. In the area of human capital, the sector showed a 19% decrease in the number of unique volunteers from 2019 to 2021. The report also confirmed a 5.6% drop in donors. 56% of the U.S. public trusts nonprofits to be honest. This however reflects a 3% decrease from 2020. 

The gross value added of nonprofits constitutes 5.7% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Also, the sector, in the second quarter of 2022 contributed $1.4 trillion to the economy.

There has been an improvement in the nonprofit sector as giving has been able to flow efficiently to a diverse range of causes. However, this has not successfully gained or retained new donors. 


Nonprofit entities in the US remain a large and thriving part of the nation’s economy. Policymakers have asserted that charitable giving and the financial state of nonprofit organizations directly affect the state of the economy. 

In general, the statistics indicate stability in the second quarter of 2022. It is however uncertain whether the stability can sustain individual organizations in the coming higher-than-average inflation which may stretch into the next year.

Now more than ever, nonprofit executives and policymakers need to plan for the most reasonable strategy for response.

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