Types of Nonprofit Organizations

There are many types of nonprofit organization and they have been classified into different categories as per Section 501 of the IRS rules.

We will first discuss charitable organizations that fall into the category of Section 501 (c)(3) of the IRS rules, as they are the most common kind of nonprofit organizations in the country.

Type 1. 501 (c)(3) organizations

A new start up nonprofit organization falls under the jurisdiction of section 501 (c)(3) if it is:

a) Charitable,
b) Educational,
c) Literary,
d) Religious,
e) Scientific,
f) Concerned with public safety ,
g) Promotes amateur sporting activities OR
h) Works for the prevention of cruelty towards children or animals.

Most of the nonprofit organizations do actually fall into ‘charitable’ category of IRS classification.

The term ‘charitable’ in itself allows for inclusion of vast variety of nonprofit organizations and is thus applicable in most of the cases.

Thus organizations like alumni associations, clubs, schools, chapters of international organizations also qualify as relevant for this section.

If your organization does not fall into any of these categories, you may first have to identify the relevant category by studying the IRS publication 557 before you proceed.

Besides this IRS classification, the nonprofit organizations can also be classified as follows:

Type 2 – Private Foundations -

A Private foundation solicits funds and donations from a limited number of members who contribute a major portion of donations to the organization.

Foundations generally do not actively or directly engage in actual charitable work. Instead, they fund other organizations that work on the chosen causes.

Type 3 – Public Charitable organization

- A public charitable organization on the other hand accepts donations and funds from a large section of people through membership subscription or from a variety of funding agencies.

To be classified as a Public charitable organization the body must have an active or continuing program to raise funds and receive donations from a number of sources which could include the private organizations, funding agencies, the general public, or the agencies set up by the Government.

Public charity organizations can obtain tax exemption. The most common type of public charity organizations include charitable hospitals, churches, medical research centers, educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities,

Type 4 – Quasi Nonprofit organizations

– These are hybrid organizations with a mix structure of different types of profit and non organization structures. We can ignore these for now as they are structured in a complex fashion and are not recommended for new start ups.

Other types of Nonprofit organizations

(that do not come under 501(c)(3) classification)

a) Advocacy groups – These kind of organizations are formed to influence the legislations or Government policies on particular issues.

Such nonprofit organizations do not classify as charitable organizations and as such cannot claim tax exemption under section 501(c)(3). Selective tax exemptions are available under different clauses of Section 501 (c) for such organizations.

b) Membership Organizations – The are usually setup for the benefit of the members of the organization as opposed to a public charity that works for a community. Examples include – Veteran’s groups, Trade Associations etc.

c) Recreational Clubs – The primary activity of such groups is providing recreation facilities and platform for its members. Charitable activities may also be undertaken but not as a priority. Examples include – country clubs, sports club etc.

d)Auxiliary organizations – These organizations are set as a subsidiary or as a support organization to a parent organization. The parent organization may be a ‘for-profit’ or a ‘not-for-profit’ organization in this case.

e)Employee Benefit Funds -These are organizations which may or may not be supported by the employer of the organization but are established with the prime objective to formulate plans and raise funds for employee benefits.


The rules and processes that will govern your nonprofit organization will depend on the classification that you decide for your organization.

It is therefore vital that you identify the classification under which you seek to start your organization at the very beginning.

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About the Author:

Adrian B. Bennett is an attorney and nonprofit consultant by profession. He provides development sector legal services in areas of formation of nonprofit organizations, choice of entity, tax exemption, private foundation tax law, corporate governance and advocacy. He serves as a legal adviser to several non profit organizations in and around Florida.

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6 Responses to “Types of Nonprofit Organizations”

  1. jackie says:

    What is difference between mutual benefit corp and public or religious corp?

  2. jenny brown says:

    I am on a committee of a golfing association.
    We wanted to raise subscriptions this year which was agreed in committee. someone on the committee said we have to take it to the AGM because it comes under rule 6 of our rules. However Rule 6 covers bye laws. Rule 15 covers Fees. There is nothing stipulated under rule 15 that we cannot raise subscriptions. Can you confirm for me that an increase in fees in not a bylaw.

  3. Ms. Cook says:

    Could you email me a partial list of NPO, mail me a free copy to Post Office Box 17,New York,NY 10163

  4. Frank says:

    check guide star website for the complete list of NGOS in your area

  5. Yinka says:

    What is the tax status classification fo r non profit organization s in Nigeria

  6. chris says:

    what would a group like Santa Clara Vanguard fall under? they describe themselves as a non-profit performing arts organization, but how does that work out since they have payroll and they are performers who pay for the membership once they audition and make it? they also do seminars and clinics and such, as well as some of the directors are paid members of staff?

    Myself and a partner are looking fo starting the same thing on a smaller scale in order to help our local community and surrounding since the school systems are so bad, and we’d love to stop kids from leaving our locale to go to org’s like Santa Clara and have them stay here and get them performing and learning and going back to their schools and having a greater influence in student to student education and awareness.

    So I am curious as to what I should looking at for a non-profit to start as and grow into. etc. in the same way as Santa Clara Vanguard

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