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19 types of nonprofits: Which one you should file under?

Get the details about 19 types of charities in the US and some real-world examples of nonprofit organizations so you can start your own.

Rachel Mills
December 28, 2023
November 11, 2020
Nerd Mr Butter

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When people hear “nonprofit,” they often think of 501(c)(3) organizations—well-known public charities and private foundations like the American Red Cross, YMCA, PETA, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But “nonprofit” is actually an umbrella term that refers to roughly 30 different types of tax-exempt organizations. These include everything from social advocacy groups and labor unions to credit unions and recreational clubs.

If you’re planning to start a nonprofit, it’s vital to understand the different types of tax-exempt organizations you can choose from. We’ve sourced the information below using Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 557, which explains how to apply for each nonprofit tax exemption. 

501(c)(3): Charitable organizations

One of the most common kinds of nonprofits is the 501(c)(3). Of the 1.54 million nonprofits registered in the United States, about two-thirds are 501(c)(3) charities. 

💛 Who they are: These organizations are often religious, educational, scientific, or literary. They may also conduct testing for public safety, hold amateur sports competitions, or further the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

💪 How they work: 501(c)(3)s largely rely on fundraising and individual donations—which are tax-deductible for donors—as well as government grants and membership dues.  

🚫 What they can’t do: Generally, they are prohibited from directly or indirectly engaging in political campaigns and lobbying.

🚀 Nonprofit examples: Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, National Geographic Society

Other nonprofit categories

Most people mistakenly think that all nonprofits are 501(c)(3) organizations, or that there are different types of 501(c)(3) organizations. 

But, there are lots of different types of charities and nonprofit classifications outside of 501(c)(3) classifications, including:

  • 501(c)(1) organizations are financial institutions. Examples include Andrews Federal Credit Union and Farm Credit Bank of Texas.
  • 501(c)(2) organizations are title-holding corporations. Examples include APA Holding Corporation and Legacy Title Holding Corporation.
  • 501(c)(4) organizations are civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and employee associations. Examples include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
  • 501(c)(5) organizations are labor, agricultural, and horticultural organizations. Examples include National Education Association, United Steelworkers, and Sunset Empire Orchid Society.
  • 501(c)(6) organizations are business leagues, chambers of commerce, and real estate boards. Examples include the National Hockey League (NHL), the American Bar Association, and the National Writers Union.
  • 501(c)(7) organizations are social and recreational clubs. Examples include Boca West Country Club and Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.
  • 501(c)(8) organizations are fraternal beneficiary societies and associations. Examples include the Knights of Columbus and Foresters Friendly Society.
  • 501(c)(9) organizations are voluntary employee beneficiary associations. Examples include Wells Fargo & Company Employee Benefit Trust, Walmart Stores Inc., and Associates’ Health & Welfare.
  • 501(c)(10) organizations are domestic fraternal societies and associations. Examples include Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and Alpha Nu Omega, Inc. 
  • 501(c)(11) organizations are teachers' retirement fund associations. Examples include the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association and the Boston Public School Teachers Retirement Fund. 
  • 501(c)(13) organizations are cemetery companies. Examples include the Albany Cemetery Association and Williamsburg Memorial Park.
  • 501(c)(14) organizations are state-chartered credit unions and mutual reserve funds. Examples include General Electric Credit Union and Alliant Credit Union Under Section.
  • 501(c)(15) organizations are mutual insurance companies or associations. Examples include Big Sky Farm Mutual Insurance Company and South Florida Dentists Insurance Trust A. 
  • 501(c)(16) organizations are cooperative organizations that finance crop operations. These nonprofit organization examples include the National Livestock Credit Corporation and the National Finance Credit Corporation of Texas. 
  • 501(c)(17) organizations are supplemental unemployment benefits trusts. Examples include Builders and Contractors Supplemental Unemployment Benefits Trust and Electrical Industry Supplemental Unemployment Benefits Fund. 
  • 501(c)(18) organizations are employee-funded pension trust. Examples include the Inter-Local Pension Fund. 
  • 501(c)(19) organizations are veteran organizations. Examples include American Legion Auxiliary and 101st Airborne Division Association.
  • 501(c)(23) organizations are veterans organizations created before 1880. Examples include the Navy Mutual Aid Association and the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association. 

How to choose the right type of nonprofit organization 

Choosing the right classification or charity category for your nonprofit is a crucial step in ensuring alignment with your mission and compliance with regulations. For most nonprofits, filing as a 501(c)(3) organization is a common choice, providing tax-exempt status. 

However, consider these key questions to determine if a more specific classification suits your needs:

  • Mission alignment 💛 Does the classification align with your organization's core mission and activities?
  • Community needs 🙏 What specific needs in your community or target population does your nonprofit address?
  • Resources 💰 Assess your financial and human resources to determine the level of support required for your chosen classification.
  • Long-term vision 🔮 Consider the long-term sustainability of your nonprofit and how your chosen classification supports your growth and impact.

Get your nonprofit off the ground with Givebutter 

There’s a lot to consider when you’re deciding which tax-exempt status to apply for and how to start your nonprofit. We recommend you reach out to an experienced lawyer or an accounting professional for advice throughout this process. 

You can also take advantage of available free resources to learn how to raise $1k in 30 days, outline a nonprofit business plan, or create a nonprofit budget plan.

No matter what kind of nonprofit organization you start, Givebutter offers a free fundraising platform that lets you raise funds for your cause, host engaging events, and build lasting donor relationships. The best part? With no platform cost and donor-covered fees, your charity can keep 100% of every cent you raise on Givebutter. 

Sign up for your free account today and see for yourself why Givebutter is the most-loved (and top-rated!) fundraising platform by nonprofits.

Additional FAQs 

What are the most common types of nonprofits?

The 501(c)(3) classification is the most common type of nonprofit. Organizations under this category are recognized as charitable and educational entities, allowing them to receive tax-deductible donations. This classification covers a broad range of causes, including social services, education, health, and more.

How many different types of nonprofits are there?

There are over 30 different types of tax-exempt organizations.

What are the most popular nonprofit types?

The popularity of nonprofit types can vary based on societal needs, trends, and current events. However, educational, healthcare, and social services nonprofits tend to be consistently popular due to the universal importance of these areas. Environmental nonprofits have also gained prominence with increasing awareness of ecological issues. 

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