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Fundraising, Management Issues/Definitions: Nonprofits, Charities, Foundations


Is there a  difference  between  nonprofit,charaties,and foundations.I always hear these words but im confused .I'm trying to figure if there the same thing.

Thanks for your question.  

The short answer is that "nonprofit" is a very broad term that can refer to a very wide range of organizations - including charities, foundations, professional associations, fraternal societies, religious organizations, and universities.  An organization becomes a nonprofit when the federal government approves their application for nonprofit status based on the work of the organization. Nonprofits must show that the work they do benefits the general public, not a few private individuals or organizations.

Charities and foundations are broad designations with the general area of nonprofit organizations.  Both have 501(C)3 (federal tax status) designations.  Charities must have a "broad base of public support" which means that they must raise money through fundraising from the general public.  Foundations, on the other hand, do not need to raise money from the general public. Foundations can operate with funding from a large, one-time donation from a single source.  Or they can raise money from one individual, a family, or a small group over the life of the foundation.

For a more thorough description of these designations, you can refer to the IRS Publication 557:

Please let me know if this helps clarify the differences between nonprofit organizations, charities, and foundations.

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Alyson Ball


Please send questions about nonprofit boards, nonprofit board committees, the relationship between board and staff, board governance, board roles and responsibilities, board recruitment, board orientations, board meeting and board retreats.


After a career in the private sector, I moved into the nonprofit sector and have been consulting, teaching and writing about nonprofit boards for the last five years. I teach at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. I present and facilitate workshops to nonprofit members of associations and chambers of commerce.

The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, VANNO (Virginia Network of Nonprofit Organizations, WUP - Women United in Philanthropy

My articles appear in which are then picked up by state-specfic nonprofit support groups and others associations and organizations throughout the United States and internationally.

Certificate of Nonprofit Management - Duke University, Master of Business Administration - The Wharton School, U. of Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Arts - Cornell University

Awards and Honors
Selected as a guest speak in The Center for Nonprofit Excellence's Board Development Academy.

Past/Present Clients
Past clients include Service Dogs of Virginia, the Ixtatan Foundation, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, African-American Teaching Fellows, and the Brockbank Education Fund.

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