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.


    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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