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Non-Profit vs. Not For Profit

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  Marius Alza  —  Grammar Tips
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At a first sight, "non-profit" and "not for profit" seem to mean the same. But these terms are used most commonly in economic contexts, where accuracy is essential. So if you have to choose the right spelling to include into your writing, especially if it's something official or written in formal language, then you have to do your research well. Because even though they do have similar meanings, they are not identical and there are some slight but important differences to mention out there between non-profit and not for profit organizations.

Don't worry, anyway, there's nothing too difficult to understand or remember. It's just something that needs to be pointed out there about the core meaning of each concept, in order to make sure you don't confuse your audience, don't offense the organization you're writing about and don't choose the wrong spelling for your text.

Non-Profit vs. Not For Profit

So basically, it is quite easy to understand the general concept both "non-profit" and "not for profit" refer to. Intuitively, we understand that both deny the existence or search for profit. A non-profit organization, as well as a "not for profit" organization, does not chase profit. Now this is one thing.

There is, anyway, something that makes a non-profit entity different than a "not for profit" one, and that is the way each manages its income. Even though they don't chase profit, these type of organizations also have sources of income, usually donations and material results of the organization's work.

The way the organizations manage this income, whether they invest it back into the organization or give it to the employees, is actually making a major difference between non-profits and not for profit's. See how each works below.

When do we use "non-profit"?

Obviously, when referring to a non-profit organization. So let's define that. A non-profit organization is one that, of course, does not work for profit, but where people also work as volunteers, not as employees.

In a non-profit, the potential income obtained by the organization is never redirected to the volunteers working there, but reinvested into the organization's activities, charity etc. Or with other words, those working in a non-profit never benefit from the organization's income.

When do we use "not for profit"?

In the case of "not for profit" organizations, things work slightly different. Yes, they do not work for profit, but if they do have additional income, that might as well be redirected to the volunteers and employees working within that organization. That is the difference between "non-profit" and "not for profit".


So yes, at the core, both "non-profit" and "not for profit" organizations work without chasing profit. But when it comes to managing the income, that's where the difference appears between these two terms. So how do you best remember a clear distinction between these two? The answer is right into the spellings.

"Non-profit" includes a clear denial of profit, ("non"), which means they never have profit, never investing into the workers. "Not for profit", on the other hand, is a clear statement that they are not working for profit, but not so clear that they don't actually make profit. So this leaves the possibility to make profit even though it's not the main objective. That's the best hint to remember that "not for profit" organizations don't chase profit but might make it and give it to their workers.

Non-Profit vs. Not For Profit

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1 Comment
  • Paul Mag
    Paul Mag
    "but nonprofit should never contain hyphens."
    Why then does it numerous times in this article?
    LikeReply 14 years ago


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