Nonprofit vs. not-for-profit (vs. non-profit)

There is no real difference in meaning between nonprofit and not-for-profit. Both can be used to describe organizations that do not redistribute surplus funds to owners or shareholders. Nonprofit is about twice as common in U.S. publications, but not-for-profit is gaining ground because it more accurately reflects how these organizations work. Most nonprofit/not-for-profit organizations do make profits. It’s just that the profits are reinvested into company operations.


The one-word form tends to give way to the hyphenated non-profit outside North America.


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  1. “There is no real difference in meaning between nonprofit and not-for-profit”

    There is actually a difference. “Nonprofits” generally have some sort of legal status indicating that they are a nonprofit. One example of this is the 501(c)(3) status. “Not-for-profits” do not have this legal status.

  2. Frank Gilbert Anderson says:

    Just has this little word raised by a Thai colleague this afternoon. I initially told her that the American preference is to go without the hyphen, being more efficient than the British that retains it. Not-for-profit, which I also know a bit, while having a niche application is really overkill for the purposes intended. People might differ, but can’t imagine why…

  3. Frank Gilbert Anderson says:

    One common error Americans make is mixing infer with imply. Imply is to make someone understand something in a certain way, whereas infer is to understand something in a certain way from information provided.

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