What Is a Nonprofit Corporation? Definition and Guide

what is a non-profit corporation

A nonprofit corporation is an organization formed to serve the public good, such as for charitable, religious, educational, or other public service reasons, rather than purely for the creation of profit itself, as businesses aim to do.

The biggest benefit of choosing this form of legal entity is that it is exempt from paying federal and state taxes on any income the corporation earns, unlike for-profit corporations.

The most common tax exemption for nonprofits comes from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code Section 501(c)(3), which is why such organizations are often called 501(c)(3) corporations.

The process of creating a nonprofit corporation mirrors that of starting a corporation for business, or profit, purposes, but there are some unique pros and cons of choosing this form of legal structure.

Advantages of a nonprofit corporation

The pros of starting a nonprofit corporation are very appealing, including:

  • No federal or state taxes on income the nonprofit earns.
  • It can receive donations from people.
  • It can apply for and receive grants—essentially free money to support its cause.
  • Board members are exempt from personal liability for corporate debts, just as with for-profit corporations.
  • No real estate taxes need to be paid if a building is bought or sold.
  • Public service announcements (PSAs) can be aired for free on TV and radio stations willing to accept them.

Disadvantages of a nonprofit corporation

While the advantages are significant, there are also disadvantages to be weighed:

  • Members of the board of directors cannot receive payment for their service; they must be volunteers.
  • If the nonprofit corporation shuts down or is closed down, its assets must be given to another nonprofit, rather than being distributed amongst its board.
  • There is a lot of paperwork involved in both setting up, keeping annual records, and shutting down a nonprofit.

Essentially, a nonprofit corporation is created and managed much like a for-profit corporation, except that instead of dividing the year-end profits among the employees or shareholders, as public corporations do through dividends, nonprofit corporations reinvest any money earned back into their own operations, to serve more people.

What Is a Nonprofit Corporation? FAQ

What is the purpose of a nonprofit corporation?

The purpose of a nonprofit corporation is to provide goods and services for the benefit of the public without the expectation of monetary gain. Nonprofits may focus on providing services such as education, health care, social services, environmental protection, or other community-oriented initiatives. Nonprofits strive to make the world a better place and often receive tax-exempt status from the government.

What is the difference between non-profit organization and nonprofit corporation?

A non-profit organization is a type of organization that is set up to provide goods and services to the public in a way that does not generate a profit. Non-profit organizations are established to serve a charitable, educational, religious, or other purpose that benefits the public. A nonprofit corporation is a type of legal entity that is set up to carry out activities that are beneficial to society, but does not generate a profit. The primary purpose of a nonprofit corporation is to pursue social, educational, religious, literary, or charitable objectives. Nonprofits are usually formed under state or federal laws, and are often granted tax-exempt status.

What are the 4 types of non-profit organizations?

  • Charitable Organizations: These are organizations that are dedicated to providing aid for disadvantaged individuals and communities. Examples include homelessness shelters, food banks, and community health centers.
  • Religious Organizations: These organizations promote religious beliefs and practices, often providing places of worship and community outreach programs. Examples include churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.
  • Educational Organizations: These organizations are dedicated to furthering and disseminating knowledge, often in the form of schools, universities, libraries, and research institutes.
  • Scientific Organizations: These organizations promote scientific research, often in the form of laboratories and other research facilities. Examples include the National Institutes of Health and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.