The History of Non-Profit Organizations in the United States: A Guide for the Future

The concept of helping and giving back to others has been around since ancient times, but non-profit organizations in the United States have a much shorter history. Every two decades, a new era marks the beginning of a new set of ideas, principles and practices that affect the functioning of the non-profit sector. Let's take a look at what we can learn from the history of non-profit organizations and how it can help us today. The Peabody Education Fund, established in 1867, is often considered to be the first non-profit organization in the United States. Its main objective was to help integrate poor, white and formerly enslaved people in the South and to rebuild the education system after the devastation of the Civil War.

From the late 19th century to 1920, America saw a time of greater social activism and political reform. During this period, laws on child labor, women's suffrage and prohibition were passed. This was also a decade of prosperity and success for many in the nation toward the turn of the century. With an increase in wealth, there was an increase in donations. The publication of Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth in 1889 promoted the idea of having a duty to society and encouraged donations to causes.

With World War II on the other side of the pond and the imminent fear that it would reach the states, Americans took it upon themselves to help with this effort from home. For the first time in the nation's history, people came together to raise funds on a global scale. They began to conserve resources, send supplies to troops abroad, and develop programs to help civilians and refugees. Fundraising and volunteering often took the form of a collaborative effort. Service organizations such as the YMCA, the Salvation Army, and the National Jewish Welfare Board came together to create the United Services Organization for National Defense (USO).

The United States Red Cross also launched an unprecedented campaign in which it was able to raise millions of dollars, recruit more than 100,000 nurses and initiate the first national war-related blood donation program. The conclusion of this period is to analyze how your non-profit organization can work with other entities to improve a cause. Whatever it is for you, working with a corporate sponsor, another non-profit organization in your community, or a for-profit company with a social responsibility approach, your organization could make great progress. By collaborating, they can save costs in aspects such as shared infrastructure and administrative expenses, promote the mission of others on different platforms and maximize efficiency when performing tasks. Don't rule out other players when thinking about your next fundraising campaign. After the enormous paradigm shift caused by the Civil Rights Movement in America and with cultural resistance entering Vietnam in 1965, we saw how Americans began to organize and work together to address specific issues with a limited focus.

The government also became much more involved in social and cultural welfare programs. In 1969, the Tax Reform Act gave us Section 501 (c), 3 of the Internal Revenue Service Code, which said that all charities in America that fit certain requirements are considered “private foundations” meaning that they have a main fund managed by their own trustees or directors. When organizations discovered that they could legally have charitable status and offer tax exemptions to their donors, there was an increase in applications for 501 (c), 3 status. With the development of an official “non-profit sector”, more rules, regulations, and policies were developed. What did collaboration between government and non-profit organizations teach us in the 1970s? Don't be afraid of Uncle Sam - work with them to apply for legal status that best suits your organization then use them to get grants that could help your non-profit organization go from being a great idea to becoming a force in your community. Treat your non-profit organization as if it were a company to get full scale results you want.

Think about raising funds like you would with a sales campaign and also think about how you can benefit from income opportunities at work. Taking risks often pays off for for-profit organizations so why wouldn't you want to try it for your non-profit organization?Just before we passed into a new millennium, something else changed our world forever - The Internet became available for public use in 1991. This forced many to adapt to technology they had never had to think about before but for non-profits it became another avenue they could use whether they were just starting out or already established voices in their community. Fortunately pioneers and thought leaders have prepared us with decades of problem solving experience so let history be our road map so we can navigate waters of non-profits with ease. Analyzing our mission statement versus our vision statement is key when creating a non-profit organization with no money but it's not impossible - these steps will help you find money you need to achieve your mission. Whether you're part of big team or lone entrepreneur looking start next great cause we have membership package that will help you reach goals no matter what stage you're at.

Chelsey Barkdull
Chelsey Barkdull

Certified social media maven. Hipster-friendly social media specialist. Unapologetic tv ninja. General web enthusiast. Subtly charming social media fanatic. Subtly charming internet trailblazer.

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