Nonprofit or For-Profit?

6, 7, 8

Learners will distinguish between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector and identify common characteristics of each.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • define and give examples of nonprofit organizations.
  • compare and contrast nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
  • identify for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the community
  • reflect on the role of nonprofits in the community, nation and world, and their impact on the quality of life.
  • For-Profit and Nonprofit Note cards (Handout) - a cut-out set of note cards featuring 10 for-profit and 10 nonprofit organizations - one set for every two students
  • Organization Sorter Form (Handout) - one for every two students


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to share what they know about the difference between for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Share with them the definition of for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

    • for-profit organization-(n) A term describing the Internal Revenue Service’s designation of an organization whose income is used for the benefit or private gain of stockholders, directors, or any other persons with an interest in the company; and is subject to all the tax laws for businesses and industries.
    • nonprofit organization- n) A term describing the Internal Revenue Service’s designation of 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; separate tax treatment exists based on whether it is charitable or not.
  2. Give each pair of students a set of 20 "For-Profit and Nonprofit Cards" (10 of each below). Instruct teams to sort the cards, using the Organization Sorter (below), into the two categories, as makes sense by the above definitions. 

    Each team will pair up with another team (four students) to discuss how they sorted their cards and through consensus, re-sort one set of cards, if necessary. At this point, they may use the Internet to verify.

  3. Reconvening the whole group, sort the cards on the board and reach whole group consensus on which organizations are for profit and which are nonprofit. Teacher Note: Two of the cards are listed as website URLs. Teach the designations ".com" for for-profit organizations and ".org" for nonprofit organizations (as well as ".gov" and ".edu").

  4. The teacher will then lead a whole class discussion regarding the common themes and characteristics of nonprofits by asking, "What do the organizations in the nonprofit list have in common?" (Possible answers include: help people, voluntary, for public benefit, provide a service.)

  5. Continue the discussion by posing the following questions to the whole group: Do we need both for-profit and nonprofit organizations in a community? What are the benefits to the community of having for-profit organization and nonprofit organizations? How would the community, nation, world be different without organizations in these two categories?

  6. Using Summary and Reflection, the learners identify and list some of the characteristics of the two groups, and write a paragraph in response to the question: How might the quality of life in our community, nation, and the world be different if there were no nonprofit organizations?

  7. Explore the website to find nonprofits of different missions. [Note: the Idealist site has multiple functions, including a job board.  Click on the "organizations" heading to find the listing of nonprofits.] Along the left side of the website, look for search categories to get some idea of the many different categories in which nonprofits work. Also, select nonprofits in your community or for youth. 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Describe how a specific civil society organization in the community operates.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.11 Identify a corporation's responsibilities to its community.
    2. Standard PI 02. Careers In The Nonprofit Sector
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify and explain how career options in the civil-society sector contribute to the community.