A nonprofit organization serves the public interest and is exempt from federal income taxes. Volunteerism and helping the public are activities that date back centuries, with church missions to help the poor and disadvantaged. In the United States, the general public’s interest in nonprofit and volunteer activity grew particularly strong during and after the Civil War. By the turn of the 20th century, many nonprofit organizations were in full operation, including the American Red Cross, and wealthy industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were paving the way for today’s philanthropic practices.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies nonprofits with certain codes based on their purpose. In general, tax-exempt organizations are classified as 501(c) organizations. The purposes that nonprofits have vary widely. Their mission may be charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering international or national amateur sports competition, or the prevention of cruelty to animals or children. The IRS lists 26 different types of nonprofit organizations.
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