A non-profit organization (often called "non-profit org" or simply "non-profit" or "not-for-profit") can be seen as an organization that doesn't have a goal to make a profit. It may be entirely funded by voluntary donations.
It may be a formal incorporated not-for-profit corporation that does not have shareholders, though it may have members and issue membership certificates or require member loans. It may also be a trust or association of members. The organization may be controlled by its members who elect the Board of Directors or Board of Trustees. Not-for-profit organizations may have a delegate structure to allow for the representation of groups or corporations as members. It may be a non-membership organization and the board of directors may elect its own successors.
It may have a tax exempt status or it may be a de-facto group of individuals operating for a common purpose. For example, it may comprise a voluntary group of individuals who are dedicated to developing an open content online encyclopedia, that allows any member of the public who has access to an internet connection and a world wide web browser to make a contribution of knowledge, information, editing, formatting, or programming skills.
Such "organizations" are often charities or service organizations; they may be organized as a not-for-profit corporation or as a trust, a cooperative or they may be purely informal. Sometimes they are also called foundations, or endowments that have large equity funds. Most foundations give out grants to other not-for-profit organizations, or fellowships to individuals. However, the name foundation may be used by any not-for-profit corporation -- even volunteer organizations or grass roots groups. A non-profit organization may be a very loosely organized group such as a block association, or a trade union, or it may be a complex structure such as a university, hospital, documentary film production company or educational book publisher.
Most jurisdictions have laws governing the setting up, running, and reporting requirements of these organizations. In many aspects they are similar to business entities though there are often significant differences. Both non-profit and for-profit entities must have board members, steering committee members, or trustees who owe the organization a fiduciary duty of loyalty and trust.
The largest non-profit organization is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has an endowment of approximately $27 billion. The second-largest is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has an endowment of approximately $11 billion.
Laws on non-profit organizations
- Commonwealth non-profit laws
- European Union non-profit laws
- People's Republic of China non-profit laws
- Republic of India non-profit laws
- Republic of Japan non-profit laws
- Russian Federation non-profit laws
- United States of America non-profit laws
Examples of non-profit organizations
Many non-profit organizations use the .org top-level domain when selecting a domain.