Nonprofit Introduction

Published: Mar 10, 2009

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Giving a bit back

Imagine what it might be like to say:

"Today at work, I helped to provide a safe place for 100 at-risk teens in my community to go after school to receive tutoring and homework assistance."


"This year at work, I raised a million dollars to fund a program that promotes better early education for young children."


"Throughout the course of my career, I helped to clean up my city's most depressed neighbourhoods, and developed hundreds of new affordable homes for disadvantaged families."

If being able to do this type of work in the course of your career appeals to you, you may want to consider a career in the "social economy" or "third sector" -- that is, outside of the public and private sectors. This sector encompasses nonprofit organisations (NPOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities. Organisations under this heading are prevented from distributing annual profits to members; any surplus assets are kept by the organisation for future programs and services.

So why are these organisations so necessary in democratic society? Their purpose is best reflected in an Industry Commission report from 1995, which explains, "Like most modern democracies, Australian society is supported and served by a not-for-profit charitable sector which delivers a range of social welfare services to its citizens. In this role the charitable sector is a crucial partner with business and government, which it complements but with which it also contrasts." The report continues, "The charitable sector underscores many basic values in Australian democracy. It exemplifies the principles of pluralism, free choice and the rights of citizens to participate in and take responsibility for their community. It helps ensure that no government has a monopoly on the way society deals with its citizens -- especially those who are most vulnerable because of economic or personal need."