Nonprofits as Alternative Power Sources

9, 10, 11, 12

We define the nonprofit, or third, sector and explain why it is important as an alternative power structure.

PrintOne 55-Minute Session
  • Define the nonprofit sector
  • Identify historical institutions and leaders that acted as alternative power sources in American society to improve conditions for the common good.
  • image of nonprofit assets from
  • online access to the Historic Nonprofit Websites handout below
  • printed copies of the Questions and Storyboard handout for each group


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    Share the image describing assets brought to us by the nonprofit sector from Have participants count how many out of 12 of these are true of them. Ask participants to share their "scores" by holding up that many fingers. Have them look for commonalities and differences in scores and discuss what this says about how citizens get what they need to thrive.

  2. Define the nonprofit sector as the part of society made up of people and organizations that serve a mission, which is focused on the good of all. It is the third sector to the government and business sectors.

    According to Lester M. Salaman and Helmut K. Anheier: In the United States, the third sector [nonprofit sector] accounts for over one-half of all hospital beds, one-half of all colleges and universities, most of the social services, and almost all of the cultural activity. It has also given rise to a variety of social and political movements like the environmental, women's, and civil rights movements that have challenged business and government.

  3. The collective action and assets of the nonprofit sector give power to individuals and groups with less money or privilege power. Talk about how nonprofit organizations can give people a boost or strength to take action.

  4. Working in pairs, participants learn about a nonprofit organization that has served as an alternative power source. They may select an organization from the handout Historic Nonprofit Websites. These are philanthropic groups that used their power to create positive changes in American society. The handout Questions and Storyboard may be used to guide questioning and reporting what they find. 

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 HS.1 Recognize and use a variety of terms related to the civil society sector appropriately, and identify the characteristics the terms describe.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Describe how women and minority groups have used the civil society sector as an alternative power structure.
      2. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Identify and discuss civil society sector organizations working to protect individual rights, equity, and justice.