Types of Nonprofit organizations

Nonprofits are classified differently by different interest groups. However primarily they are classified into two broad categories.

  • Private foundations: An organization that solicits funds and donations from a limited number of members who contribute a major portion of donations to the organization are called private foundations.

Private foundations normally do not actively or directly engage in actual charitable work. Instead, they fund the organizations that work on the chosen causes.

  • Public charitable organization: An organization that raises funds from the general public or from a variety of funding agencies.

A public charitable organization generally runs active or continuing programs to raise funds from a number of sources which could include the general public, private organizations, funding agencies and/or Government agencies.

Broader classification as per IRS

IRS classifies non-profit organizations into 32 categories under sections 501(c)(1) up to section 501(c)(27) and under sections 501(d) – 501(n) of the IRS Code.

Each of these 32 categories have several sub categories thus making for hundreds of categories.

See: Annexure below: IRS classification of non-profit organizations

501(c)(3): the most common category
Under section 501(c)(3) – which constitutes the most common kind of nonprofit organizations, IRS classifies non-profit organizations as: Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations

The ‘charitable’ category is used for all nonprofits that do not fall in any other category.

IRS classification  – Publication 557


Section of 1986 Tax Code Description of organization General nature of activities
501(c)(1) Corporations Organized Under Act of Congress (including Federal Credit Unions) Instrumentalities of the United States
501(c)(2) Title Holding Corporation For Exempt Organization Holding title to property of an exempt organization
501(c)(3) Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations Activities of nature implied by description of class of organization.

Further classified as:

Private foundations


Public Charity organizations

501(c)(4) Civic Leagues, Social Welfare Organizations, and Local Associations of Employees Promotion of community welfare; charitable, educational or recreational
501(c)(5) Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations Educational or instructive, the purpose being to improve conditions of work, and to improve products and efficiency
501(c)(6) Business Leagues, Chambers of Commerce, Real Estate Boards, Etc. Improvement of business conditions of one or more lines of business
501(c)(7) Social and Recreation Clubs Pleasure, recreation, social activities
501(c)(8) Fraternal Beneficiary Societies and Associations Lodge providing for payment of life, sickness, accident, or other benefits to members
501(c)(9) Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Associations Providing for payment of life, sickness, accident or other benefits to members
501(c)(10) Domestic Fraternal Societies and Associations Lodge devoting its net earnings to charitable, fraternal, and other specified purposes. No life, sickness, or accident benefits to members
501(c)(11) Teachers’ Retirement Fund Associations Teachers’ association for payment of retirement benefits
501(c)(12) Benevolent Life Insurance Associations, Mutual Ditch or Irrigation Companies, Mutual or Cooperative Telephone Companies, Etc. Activities of a mutually beneficial nature similar to those implied by the description of class of organization
501(c)(13) Cemetery Companies Burials and incidental activities
501(c)(14) State Chartered Credit Unions, Mutual Reserve Funds Loans to members
501(c)(15) Mutual Insurance Companies or Associations Providing insurance to members substantially at cost
501(c)(16) Cooperative Organizations to Finance Crop Operations Financing crop operations in conjunction with activities of a marketing or purchasing association
501(c)(17) Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Trusts Provides for payment of supplemental unemployment compensation benefits
501(c)(18) Employee Funded Pension Trust (created before June 25, 1959) Payment of benefits under a pension plan funded by employees
501(c)(19) Post or Organization of Past or Present Members of the Armed Forces Activities implied by nature of organization
501(c)(20) Group Legal Services Plan Organizations n/a
501(c)(21) Black Lung Benefit Trusts Funded by coal mine operators to satisfy their liability for disability or death due to black lung diseases
501(c)(22) Withdrawal Liability Payment Fund To provide funds to meet the liability of employers withdrawing from a multi-employer pension fund
501(c)(23) Veterans Organization (created before 1880) To provide insurance and other benefits to veterans
501(c)(25) Title Holding Corporations or Trusts with Multiple Parents Holding title and paying over income from property to 35 or fewer parents or beneficiaries
501(c)(26) State-Sponsored Organization Providing Health Coverage for High-Risk Individuals Provides health care coverage to high-risk
501(c)(27) State-Sponsored Workers’ Compensation Reinsurance Organization Reimburses members for losses under workers’ compensation acts
501(d) Religious and Apostolic Associations Regular business activities. Communal religious community
501(e) Cooperative Hospital Service Organizations Performs cooperative services for hospitals
501(f) Cooperative Service Organizations of Operating Educational Organizations Performs collective investment services for educational organizations
501(k) Child Care Organization Provides care for children
501(n) Charitable Risk Pools Pools certain insurance risks of 501(c)(3)
521(a) Farmers’ Cooperative Associations Cooperative marketing and purchasing for agricultural producers