Non-profit organization

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A non-profit organization ( NPO ; German: non-profit organization ) followed, as opposed to research profit - organization , (for-profit organization) no economic profit targets. It serves, for example, social, cultural or scientific goals of its members, which can be pursued in a charitable or self-serving manner. This is usually set out in a statute .


The term “non-profit organization” is not uniformly and clearly defined neither in everyday language nor in specialist sciences. Numerous authors point out that the term “non-profit” is initially only used as a negative distinction. The term usually summarizes organizations that do not primarily pursue commercial goals and are not public administrative authorities. This includes various public institutions (e.g. schools, museums and theaters, clinics) as well as very different private associations (e.g. parties, foundations, citizens' initiatives, non-profit organizations, self-help groups or associations that only serve to organize their own leisure time) .

Supplement to state and market

Non-profit organizations fulfill certain purposes of meeting needs, promoting or representing interests or influencing (dominance of objective) for their members (self-help) or third parties. The organizations belong to the nonprofit sector .


As clubs , associations , self-governing bodies , non-profit societies ( gGmbH , gUG or gAG ), cooperatives or foundations , they are managed by elected volunteers and can be supported in their work by volunteers. Their governing bodies can be elected or, as with foundations, appointed by specific persons or institutions .


In Germany, any non-profit status is checked for plausibility as part of a state recognition process when applying for non-profit status. The tax office where an exemption from corporation tax is requested is usually responsible . The tax assessment also serves as proof of charitable status and is the basis for issuing tax-reducing donation receipts . Typical legal forms of non-profit organizations are the non-profit GmbH , the non-profit stock corporation and the registered association (e.V.).

Financing and controlling

The NPOs finance their services (individual goods , merit goods or collective goods ) through membership fees, donations, grants, prices or fees. On an international average, they are financed 53% through compensation for services, 35% through state contributions and only 12% through donations. In total, NPOs have annual sales of almost two trillion US dollars worldwide. This roughly corresponds to the gross domestic product of France.

Any surpluses generated may not be distributed directly to members or sponsors as a return on capital . Certain reimbursements are possible in relation to the service demand. Transitions from private autonomy to state or market control in certain areas are possible and frequent.

The interest of social services in controlling increases to the extent that the inadequate suitability of financial key figures for controlling companies is recognized, especially when these companies, like many in social work , are not oriented towards profit. Even if it is difficult to establish connections in the scientific sense in the social field, an assessment of the results of the measures offered is seen as sensible and feasible. In order to do justice to the complexity of social services, it is recommended to fall back on a multidimensional framework. In addition to the financial dimension, what counts for NPOs in the social area is the degree of order fulfillment, the perspective of the service recipient and that of the staff.

The dimensions mentioned are intended to answer the following fundamental questions:

  • Order fulfillment: How well does the social service fulfill the subject-specific objective?
  • Beneficiaries: What benefits do the beneficiaries see?
  • Personnel: How does the service affect the employees?
  • Profitability: What are the financial consequences of the social service for the NPO?

Further or other dimensions are not excluded in principle: There is always a tightrope walk between clarity and completeness. The consideration of several dimensions makes it possible to get a balanced picture of the effects of a measure.

The multidimensional approach is intended to ensure that contradictions in the target system are more easily recognized. Possible conflicts can be addressed in advance instead of subliminally affecting the overall result of the organization. However, in order not to lose track of the abundance of details, key information (such as key figures) is essential. It is important to be able to get a balanced picture of the impact of a social measure at a glance.


The term non-profit presupposes profit-oriented economic activity, as it is common in capitalism . Capitalist principles such as private property or the self-determination of labor are prerequisites for the emergence of private non-profit organizations in addition to a level of prosperity and development that goes beyond subsistence . A hypothetical state organization that uses state property and more or less forcibly involves the workforce of the citizens can not be described as a non-profit organization even if there is no profit intention. Therefore, NPOs in western countries have a long history. Non-governmental charity also existed in premodern societies, historically particularly in the form of foundations that were used to finance hospitals or poor relief, for example . Such a foundation system existed, for example, in Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period .

United States

The history of the development of the non-profit organizations in the USA is the history of efforts to achieve political and cultural independence from Europe. The origins of the non-profit organizations in the USA grow out of the rejection of European absolutism in the 18th century. As a result of this rejection of state power, there is an increasing search for civil society concepts of self-administration . With the increasing social imbalance in Europe at the time of industrialization and the associated social changes (e.g. October Revolution , socialist laws ), possibilities are being sought in the USA to prevent the state's sphere of influence from expanding.

At the end of the 19th century in particular, the concept of so-called welfare capitalism , in which employers independently provide social benefits, is discussed. This is often done through in-house non-profit organizations.

Even today, many tasks that are traditionally assigned to the state sector in Europe (education, culture, etc.) are still performed by non-profit organizations in the USA.

The classification is done by the National Center for Charitable Statistics . As a 501 (c) organization, NPOs can be exempt from tax liability .


In the Middle Ages the foundation system was shaped by Christianity. Possibly due to the increasing prosperity of the middle class, an upswing in privately financed charities can be observed from the late 18th century onwards. The 19th century is then a heyday of such organizations; a large part of the bourgeois elite was active in them on a voluntary basis or contributed to their funding. This is particularly noticeable in the city-states , where commercial citizens are concentrated. In Frankfurt am Main there were, for example, the Senckenberg Foundation (community hospital and medical-scientific foundation with library), the Städel Foundation ( art school and museum ), the Polytechnic Society (advanced training for workers, savings bank for "little people"), the Rothschild Jewish hospital ( which was only open to paying members), the orphanage foundation and a poor kitchen that was run and financed by the middle-class ladies of the women's association . The women's association also ran a school. The lively association of the time is generally difficult to distinguish from the purely charitable non-profit institutions.


Since the end of the last millennium, the non-profit sector has been in a state of upheaval, due to external as well as internal factors. Sociopolitical developments lead to shifts in the demand for social services, while empty public coffers and financially weakened social security systems in many European countries confront non-profit organizations with far-reaching restrictions. At the same time, the sector is experiencing an intensification of competition borne by changed legal framework conditions - at national as well as at EU level - and a corresponding reform process in public administration , etc. a. through New Public Management .

Social services are particularly affected by the economization of the public sector and are faced with the challenge of expanding and deepening their accountability in order to demonstrate the benefits of their work to sponsors, members and donors. While the measurement of success in profit-oriented companies is limited to a few quantitative parameters - such as sales or profitability , the question gives rise to great uncertainties in social NPOs. When will the integration of immigrants be achieved? Or: How is the living situation of disabled people improving? It is part of the nature of providers of social services that, in addition to compliance with financial framework conditions, specific objective objectives are pursued, such as reducing juvenile delinquency or activating senior citizens. The latter, however, are seldom formulated so precisely that implementation would be easily possible and verifiable. The measurement of success is all the more complex when goals are formulated in an impact- oriented manner rather than resource-oriented . In the eyes of stakeholders, such as donors, volunteers or the public sector, it is not only the funds used that count, but also the results achieved. At the level of the resources used, the NPO directs its attention to the production factors (inputs) necessary for a specific goal, such as the number or qualifications of employees. The staff represents one of the decisive resources. In contrast, impact-related goals relate to the results that are to be achieved - be it the quantity ( output ), the objective effect ( effect ), the subjective consequence ( impact ) or the result for the Environment ( outcome ). The transition from input to output goals is associated with considerable consequences for the NPO and is clearly reflected in the orientation of the control instruments. If, for example, a counseling center for young people thinks about staff hours from the point of view of the use of resources, then the focus - when it comes to effect - is to improve the living conditions of young people.

Types of Non-Profit Organizations

A basic distinction is made between:

  • External service NPO (service provider for third parties)
  • Self-service NPO (membership association)
  • Mixed forms of both

Social and ecological area

Cultural area

See also


  • Christoph Badelt (Ed.): Handbook of the nonprofit organization. 4th, revised edition, Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-7910-1302-5 .
  • Maria Laura Bono : NPO Controlling - Professional management of social services. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-7910-2541-4 .
  • Manfred Bruhn: Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations. Basics - Concepts - Instruments. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-17-018281-1 .
  • Walter Fischer: Social Marketing for Non-Profit Organizations - A Handbook. Orell Füssli, Zurich 2000, ISBN 3-280-02659-8 .
  • Ekkehart Frieling : Competence and organizational development in non-profit organizations: trade unions, educational institutions and public administration in economic change. Waxmann, Münster a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-8309-1184-X .
  • Marlies W. Fröse (Ed.): Management of social organizations. Contributions from theory, research and practice. The Darmstadt management model. Haupt, Bern (among others) 2005, ISBN 3-258-06877-1 .
  • Richard Häusler, Claudia Kerns: Company environmental education. oekom, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-86581-047-0 .
  • Stefan Nahrlich, Annette Zimmer (ed.): Management in nonprofit organizations. A practice-oriented introduction. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2000, ISBN 3-8100-2295-0 .
  • Michael Mroß: Management in the Social Economy - Compact! Cp-Verlag, Leipzig 2014, ISBN 978-1-4959-7428-1 .
  • Robert Purtschert: Marketing for associations and other nonprofit organizations. 2nd edition, Haupt, Bern / Stuttgart / Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-258-06913-1 .
  • Patrick Renz: Project Governance: Implementing Corporate Governance and Business Ethics in Nonprofit Organizations. Physica, Heidelberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-7908-1926-7 .
  • Ruth Simsa : Social functions and forms of influence of nonprofit organizations. A systems theory analysis. Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2001, ISBN 3-631-36791-0 .
  • Peter Schwarz: Organization in nonprofit organizations. Haupt, Bern / Stuttgart / Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-258-06885-2 .
  • Armin Wöhrle: Basics of management in the social economy. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2003. ISBN 978-3-8329-0341-1 .

Web links

Commons : Non-Profit Organizations  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Bernd Helmig: Nonprofit Organization (NPO) , Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon (online); accessed May 4, 2019.
  2. NZZ am Sonntag, October 15, 2006, p. 37.
  3. ^ Robert Purtschert, Peter Schwarz, Bernd Helmig, Reinbert Schauer, Andrea Haid: The NPO glossary. Haupt, Bern [u. a.] 2005, ISBN 3-258-06884-4 .
  4. ^ Maria Laura Bono: NPO controlling: professional control of social services. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 978-3-7910-2541-4 .
  5. ^ Ralf Roth: City and bourgeoisie in Frankfurt am Main. Oldenbourg, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-486-56188-X .
  6. Wöhrle, Armin: Fundamentals of management in the social economy.