Passion, Purpose and Professionalism
New Horizons in Management series
Edited by Ronald J. Burke and Cary L. Cooper
Chapter 3: The roles nonprofit organizations play in society in the United States
The purpose of this chapter is to describe and analyze the changing roles that nonprofit organizations and the nonprofit sector play in the United States (US). We start by briefly defining the current nonprofit sector before discussing the role of nonprofit organizations in civil society. We then explore the evolving role of nonprofit organizations in American history. Finally, we discuss the changing landscape of the nonprofit community and analyze what these changes may mean for the roles of nonprofit providers, for their volunteers and for the citizens they serve, followed by concluding thoughts. Before we discuss the role of nonprofit organizations in society, it is important to understand what the sector looks like in the US (also hereafter, America). The term ‘nonprofit organization’ and the nonprofit sector are relatively new in our vocabulary. The sector has always been difficult to define and this may be why it has so many names: the voluntary sector, the charitable sector, the civil society sector, the third sector, the non- governmental sector, the independent sector and the tax-exempt sector. One definition of a nonprofit organization is an organization that ‘is precluded, by external regulation or its own governance structure, from distributing its financial surplus to those who control the use of organizational assets’ (Powell and Steinberg, 2006, p. 1). In other words, a nonprofit organization is one that does not exist to make money for its owners or investors. Rather, the organization is driven by and dedicated to a specific mission or cause (Board Source, 2011).
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