Nonprofit Organization vs. For-Profit Businesses

Nonprofit Organization vs. For-Profit Businesses

From churches to youth organizations to the local chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations make our communities more livable places. Unlike for-profit businesses that exist to generate profits for their owners, nonprofit organizations exist to pursue missions that address the needs of society. Nonprofit organizations serve in a variety of sectors, such as religious, education, health, social services, commerce, amateur sports clubs, and the arts.

Nonprofits do not have commercial owners and must rely on funds from contributions, membership dues, program revenues, fundraising events, public and private grants, and investment income.

Mission and Ownership

While businesses are organized to generate profits, nonprofits are organized to address needs in society. As a result, nonprofits will issue a statement of activities instead of the income statement issued by for-profit businesses.

Since nonprofits do not have owners, there is no owner’s equity or stockholders’ equity and there cannot be distributions to owners.

Some people mistakenly assume that if an organization is designated as a nonprofit, it cannot legally earn profits. In fact, earning profits (having revenues that exceed expenses) is almost a necessity for a nonprofit if it hopes to withstand such things as:

  • unexpected expenses
  • uneven flows of revenues
  • a decrease in revenues
  • rising costs due to inflation
  • an increase in staffing needs
  • an increase in the need for its services
  • a purchase or replacement of needed equipment
  • other needs since a nonprofit cannot issue shares of stock


Tax-Exempt Status

Nonprofit organizations may apply to the Internal Revenue Service in order to be exempt from federal income taxes.

A second issue is whether a donor’s contribution to a nonprofit organization will qualify as a charitable deduction on the donor’s income tax return. For example, churches, schools, and Red Cross chapters are some of the nonprofits that will qualify as tax-exempt and their donors’ contributions will also qualify as charitable deductions on the donors’ income tax returns.

However, there are nonprofits that qualify as tax-exempt but their donors’ contributions do not qualify as charitable deductions (although they may qualify as business expenses). Examples of these nonprofits include social organizations, chambers of commerce, college fraternities and sororities, amateur sports clubs, employee organizations, and more.

Even if a nonprofit is exempt from federal income taxes, it is likely that its employees will be subject to employment taxes. Nonprofits may or may not be exempt from sales taxes, real estate taxes, and other taxes depending on which state in the U.S. they are incorporated or operate.

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