Nonprofit VS. Not For Profit. What’s The Differnce

Nonprofit Vs Not For Profit

When it comes to organizations that aim to serve the public good, terms like “nonprofit” and “not for profit” are often used interchangeably. However, these two types of organizations have distinct differences that can impact everything from their financial operations to their legal requirements. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone involved in running, funding, or supporting such organizations. In this blog, we will explore the definitions, financial and operational distinctions, governance structures, missions, and legal considerations that differentiate nonprofits from not for profits.

NonProfit Definition

Nonprofit organizations are entities that operate for the benefit of the public or a specific group of people. They are often recognized by their 501(c)(3) status, which grants them tax-exempt privileges. This means they do not pay federal income tax on money they receive for their charitable activities. Common examples include charities, educational institutions, and healthcare organizations. The primary goal of a nonprofit is to further a social cause, and any surplus revenue is reinvested into the organization to support its mission.

Not For Profit Definition


Not for profit organizations, on the other hand, are typically formed to serve the interests of their members rather than the broader public. These organizations might include hobby clubs, sports associations, and other member-based groups. While they can also be tax-exempt, they are usually recognized under different sections of the tax code, such as 501(c)(7) for social clubs. Unlike nonprofits, not for profits focus on serving their members’ needs and may use surplus funds for member benefits.

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Key Distinctions

Funding and Revenue Generation Nonprofits often rely on donations, grants, and fundraising events to generate revenue. They might also receive funding from government programs or private foundations. These funds are typically used to support their programs and services aimed at benefiting the public.

Not for profits, in contrast, generate revenue through member fees, dues, and sponsorships. Their income is primarily used to cover operational costs and provide services or benefits directly to their members. They are less likely to seek public donations and more focused on self-sustenance through their members’ contributions.

Profit Distribution A key difference between nonprofits and not for profits is how they handle surplus funds. Nonprofits are prohibited from distributing profits to members, directors, or officers. Instead, any surplus must be reinvested into the organization to further its charitable purpose.

Not for profits, while also restricted from distributing profits to members in a typical sense, use surplus funds to enhance member benefits, such as improved facilities or services. Their financial operations are centered around member satisfaction rather than public welfare.

Structure & Governance

Nonprofit Governance Nonprofits are governed by a board of directors responsible for overseeing the organization’s activities and ensuring compliance with legal and ethical standards. This board plays a crucial role in strategic planning, financial oversight, and maintaining the organization’s mission. Nonprofits must adhere to stringent reporting requirements to maintain their tax-exempt status, including filing annual returns with the IRS.

Not For Profit Governance Not for profits also have governance structures, but they tend to be less formal and more flexible. Leadership roles may include a board of directors or a group of officers elected by members. These organizations focus more on member engagement and less on external compliance. Reporting requirements are typically less rigorous compared to nonprofits.

Mission & Purpose

Nonprofit Mission Statements The mission of a nonprofit organization is centered around creating a positive impact on society. Examples include providing education, alleviating poverty, advancing medical research, and promoting environmental conservation. Their mission statements reflect a commitment to public service and societal improvement. 

Not For Profit Purpose Statements Not for profits are dedicated to serving the interests and needs of their members. Their purposes can vary widely, from providing recreational activities to supporting professional development within a specific industry. The mission of a not for profit is more internally focused, aiming to enhance the experience and benefits for its members.

Legal Requirements

Nonprofit Legal Requirements Nonprofits must comply with both state and federal regulations to maintain their tax-exempt status. This includes adhering to the IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations, which involve restrictions on political activities and requirements for financial transparency. Nonprofits must file annual returns and provide detailed records of their activities and finances.


Not For Profit Legal Requirements Not for profits are subject to state regulations and, in some cases, federal oversight, but the requirements are generally less stringent. They may need to register with the state and file periodic reports, but the level of scrutiny is lower compared to nonprofits. This allows for more operational flexibility but also requires careful management to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

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Choosing The Right Structure

Evaluating Your Mission and Goals When deciding between forming a nonprofit or a not for profit organization, it is essential to evaluate your mission and goals. Consider whether your primary purpose is to serve the public or to provide benefits to a specific group of members. This decision will influence your funding strategies, operational approach, and legal obligations.

Case Studies For example, a charity focused on providing meals to the homeless would likely benefit from the nonprofit structure, leveraging public donations and grants. On the other hand, a local soccer club might prefer the not for profit model, focusing on member dues and sponsorships to sustain its activities.

Know The Difference

Understanding the differences between nonprofits and not for profits is vital for anyone involved in the nonprofit sector. These distinctions affect everything from funding and governance to legal compliance and mission fulfillment. By choosing the right structure for your organization, you can ensure it operates effectively and in alignment with its goals.

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