A nonprofit organization (NPO, also known as a non-business entity) is an organization that uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization's directors (or equivalents) as profit or dividends. This is known as the distribution constraint.The decision to adopt a non profit legal structure is one that will often have taxation implications, particularly where the nonprofit seeks income tax exemption, charitable status and so on.
The nonprofit landscape is highly varied, although many people have come to associate NPOs with charitable organizations. Although charities do comprise an often high profile or visible aspect of the sector, there are many other types of nonprofits. Overall, they tend to be either member-serving or community-serving. Member-serving organizations include mutual societies, cooperatives, trade unions, credit unions, industry associations, sports clubs, retired serviceman's clubs and peak bodies – organizations that benefit a particular group of people – the members of the organization. Typically, community-serving organizations are focused on providing services to the community in general, either globally or locally: organizations delivering human services programs or projects, aid and development programs, medical research, education and health services, and so on. It could be argued many nonprofits sit across both camps, at least in terms of the impact they make.For example, the grassroots support group that provides a lifeline to those with a particular condition or disease could be deemed to be serving both its members (by directly supporting them) and the broader community (through the provision of a helping service for fellow citizens).
Many NPOs use the model of a double bottom line in that furthering their cause is more important than making a profit, though both are needed to ensure the organization's sustainability.
Although NPOs are permitted to generate surplus revenues, they must be retained by the organization for its self-preservation, expansion, or plans. NPOs have controlling members or a board of directors. Many have paid staff including management, whereas others employ unpaid volunteers and even executives who work with or without compensation (occasionally nominal).
Designation as a nonprofit does not mean that the organization does not intend to make a profit, but rather that the organization has no 'owners' and that the funds realized in the operation of the organization will not be used to benefit any owners. The extent to which an NPO can generate surplus revenues may be constrained or use of surplus revenues may be restricted.
In the United States, nonprofit organizations are formed by filing bylaws and/or articles of incorporation in the state in which they expect to operate. The act of incorporating creates a legal entity enabling the organization to be treated as a distinct body (corporation) by law and to enter into business dealings, form contracts, and own property as individuals or for-profit corporations can.
Nonprofits can have members but many do not. The nonprofit may also be a trust or association of members. The organization may be controlled by its members who elect the Board of Directors, Board of Governors or Board of Trustees. A nonprofit may have a delegate structure to allow for the representation of groups or corporations as members. Alternatively, it may be a non-membership organization and the board of directors may elect its own successors.
The two major types of nonprofit organization are membership and board-only. A membership organization elects the board and has regular meetings and the power to amend the bylaws. A board-only organization typically has a self-selected board, and a membership whose powers are limited to those delegated to it by the board. A board-only organization's bylaws may even state that the organization does not have any membership, although the organization's literature may refer to its donors or service recipients as "members". The Model Nonprofit Corporation Act imposes many complexities and requirements on membership decision-making. Accordingly, many organizations have formed board-only structures. The National Association of Parliamentarians has generated concerns about the implications of this trend for the future of openness, accountability, and understanding of public concerns in nonprofit organizations. Specifically, they note that nonprofit organizations, unlike business corporations, are not subject to market discipline for products and shareholder discipline of their capital; therefore, without membership control of major decisions such as election of the board, there are few inherent safeguards against abuse. A rebuttal to this might be that as nonprofit organizations grow and seek larger donations, the degree of scrutiny increases, including expectations of audited financial statements. A further rebuttal might be that NPOs are constrained, by their choice of legal structure, from financial benefit as far as distribution of profit to its members/directors is concerned.
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