Exploring Nonprofits

3, 4, 5

The purpose of this lesson is to have learners name and recognize nonprofit organizations within the local community utilizing the Idealist.org web site. Learners will categorize nonprofits and describe how they help or enhance the community.

This lesson was adapted from a 3-5 grade Learning to Give unit "Nonprofits are Necessary" found at /units/nonprofits-are-necessary-3-5.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • review the definitions of nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations.
  • identify and research nonprofit organizations in the local community using a variety of sources, including the web site www.Idealist.org.
  • graph nonprofit organizations according to category.
  • Display area on which to create a "T" chart.
  • The Yellow Pages section from several telephone books
  • Web site www.idealist.org
  • Local periodicals and publications such as newspapers, magazines, programs from local symphonies, community bulletins, Chamber of Commerce guide, etc. (Teacher note: The local Chamber of Commerce is a good source for some of these materials.)
  • Graph paper
  • Student copies of Research Organizer (Handout One)
  • Nonprofit Organizations in my Community (Handout Two)
  • Are You Involved? (Handout Three)
Home Connection 

Have learners bring the bar graph home. With an adult’s help, the child and adult will discuss nonprofit organizations in which they are involved. The child will add the organizations in each category in which they are involved to the chart titled Are You Involved? (see Handout Three).


Helpful Web sites include:


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    (In advance, create a “T” chart on a display area. Don’t label the two sections of the chart.) Ask the students to brainstorm the names of places they or their families have been to in the last week. As the students name the places, write them on either side of the “T” chart putting nonprofit organizations on one side and for-profit organizations on the other. Don’t tell the students how you are sorting their responses. Try to note at least one response from every student. After there is a list on each side of the “T” chart, ask the students if they can guess why you sorted the responses as you did. Label the sections For-profit and Nonprofit.

    Day One

  2. Review the definitions of for-profit and nonprofit organizations with the learners. Profit organization: An organization that is in business to make money for its owners. Non-profit organization: An organization whose income is not used for the benefit or private gain of stockholders, directors or any other persons with an interest in the company. The income is used to further the mission or work of the organization.

  3. The learners will research local nonprofits. Have three stations set up in the classroom: Station 1 - telephone books, Station 2 – computer(s), and Station 3 - local newspapers/publications. Before dividing learners into three groups, brainstorm and list key words learners can look for when searching in the Yellow Pages, on the web, and in the local newspapers/publications. (For the Yellow Pages search, look under headings such as: Churches, Human Services Organizations, Social Service Organizations, Hospitals, Mental Health Services, Humane Societies, Youth Organizations and Centers, as well as the names of specific local relief agencies such as: Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club, Girls, Inc., zoos, libraries, museums, orchestras, etc. For the Web search, go to www.idealist.org. Under Advanced Searches, click on “Organizations” and type in the State and City. The Research Organizer (see Attachment One) should be duplicated, two-sided, with several distributed to each research group.

  4. Divide learners into three groups and instruct each group to find local nonprofit organizations. Learners will keep a record of the organizations they find using the Research Organizer. Have each group of learners circulate to each station.

  5. Day Two

  6. Share the results of the research as a class. On a display board or chart paper record all the nonprofits the learners have found. Discuss why each organization is a nonprofit and the community need it addresses. Discuss how each organization helps the community. Identify the organization as providing a good or a service for the community. For example, Goodwill provides goods like clothing and household items and Boy Scouts of America provide youth development activities.

  7. Tell the learners that nonprofit organizations are usually categorized as health, education, social services, arts and culture, housing and community development, religion, civic participation and advocacy, and international assistance.

  8. Distribute graph paper to each learner. Label the horizontal line with the categories of the nonprofit organizations, the vertical line with community appropriate increments, and title the graph Nonprofit Organizations in my Community. Create a bar graph with the information. An optional graph is available in Nonprofit Organizations in my Community (Handout Two). The number increments can be adapted to be appropriate to the local community.

  9. After the graph is completed, pose the discussion question, “How is the quality of life enhanced by the nonprofit organizations in our community? How would life in our community change if we did not have nonprofit organizations?” Have the learners journal their thoughts and share their ideas.


Have learners draw a picture of nonprofits in action, (i.e., using Habitat for Humanity, learners could draw people building a house, or for the library it could be a picture of the building with people coming out carrying books). A sentence should be written and attached to each picture about why the organization is a nonprofit and how it enhances community life. The drawings could be made into a class mural or collage for display.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark E.1 Name and recognize the civil society sector as a separate part of the community.
      2. Benchmark E.2 Name an example of a civil society charitable organization.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 04. Philanthropy and Geography
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify and describe how civil society organizations help the community.