Nonprofits as Alternative Power Sources

9, 10, 11, 12

We define the third sector and explain why it is important to minority groups who accessed and used it as an alternative power structure.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

Identify historical institutions and leaders that acted as an alternative power structure in American society to improve conditions for the common good.

  • Student copies of "Learning to Give" Glossary of Philanthropic Terms (Handout One)
  • Student copies of Philanthropic Historical Web Sites (Handout Two)
  • Halperin, Samuel. A Guide for the Powerless and Those Who Don't Know Their Own Power:
    A Primer on the American Political Process.
    Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum, 2001, p.2, p.9.
  • Salamon, Lester M. and Helmut K. Anheier. Defining the Non-Profit Sector: A Cross-National Analysis. New York: Manchester University Press, 1997, p.3.


  1. Anticipatory Set: As students enter the room, address as many as possible by saying, "Welcome, Citizen Smith or Citizen Brown, etc." Ask students to signal with a "thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs sideways motion" whether they felt a "positive, negative, or neutral" reaction to being addressed as "citizen." Discuss.

  2. Review the "Learning to Give" Glossary of Philanthropic Terms handout and read the definition of the word "citizen."

    Ask participants to choose from one of the following two quotations and describe what the statement means to them.

    "The highest office in a democracy is that of citizen." — Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter


    "As citizens, we have every right to raise hell when we see injustice done, or the public interest betrayed, or the public process corrupted." — John W. Gardner

    Give the learners about five minutes to write their answers, and take another five minutes to discuss their answers.

    • Have the learners read the following definitions and give examples: business, government, and nonprofit sector.
    • 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. Working in pairs, participants pick a group to research from the handout Philanthropic Historical Websites, which lists philanthropic groups that were used as alternative power structures to create positive changes in American society.

    They take notes on the impact of these groups, who they advocated for, and how they gained power through philanthropy. The advocacy groups are in five categories: African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and women. 

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.