Image: “‘Volunteer Point’” by Stefan 1981 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The study of nonprofit organizations and the nonprofit sector is often a paradox. There is opportunity and hope, with organizations serving millions of people every year. There are also challenges, with organizations failing to live up to public expectations or failing to deliver what they’ve promised.

Let’s look at some recent examples:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic, and the 2022 inflation that followed, saw nonprofits filling ever greater needs in communities, from housing to food insecurity. As stated by Josh Hopkin, the Executive Director of Family Promise of Albany County, Wyoming, a nonprofit organization working to end homelessness, “(Inflation has) made it so people’s rent goes up by $300, and now they can’t afford the place they’re in…. They’re going to get evicted, and now they’re in a really rough spot where they might not be in that rough position a year ago.” Yet, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle published a story about how the nonprofits in that community were answering the call for increased demand for their services, despite flat or decreased fundraising.
  • Additionally, the war in Ukraine has led to many international nonprofits stepping up to provide emergency aid to refugees. World Central Kitchen and its founder, celebrity chef José Andrés, is on the ground to help.


  • On the other hand, in 2021, The New York Times published an investigation into the CORE Services Group, a New York-based nonprofit organization that was designed to help set up shelters for unhoused individuals and paid for largely by tax payer dollars. In the investigation, the group and its founder were accused of funneling tens of millions of dollars into private companies owned by the founder. Shortly after the investigation was published, the city of New York cancelled its contracts with the organization.

As these examples demonstrate, nonprofit organizations are on the front lines in communities, providing an important foundation for the social safety net in the United States and around the world. They often accomplish amazing feats with few resources. Yet, through bad management and governance, the reputation of nonprofit organizations, and sometimes the sector as a whole, struggles to overcome a credibility gap.  Because of this, it’s important for nonprofit managers – and the public at large – to understand the crucial roles these organizations play in society. This includes paying close attention to the expectations that communities have for nonprofit organizations to be professionally managed, transparent and accountable.

This book was designed to be used in an undergraduate-level introductory course on the nonprofit sector.   It provides an overview of the vocabulary used in defining the work of nonprofit organizations and topics of interest to nonprofit managers, as well as describing the primary roles nonprofits play in American (and to a lesser extent international) communities. The book also considers the growing numbers and influence of social enterprises and other “social innovation” organizations. Throughout, it brings in leading themes of accountability, ethics and obligations facing many nonprofit organizations as they go about their work – challenges that should be well understood by anyone interested in becoming a leader in the nonprofit sector.


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Introduction to the Nonprofit Sector Copyright © 2022 by Dyana P. Mason is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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