Perspective and Issues

Key Differences between Not-for-Profit and Profit Organizations

Resource Use Consideration

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles


Not-for-profit organizations represent a significant portion of the economy of the United States. Over one million of these organizations provide almost every conceivable type of service from education to politics, from social services to country clubs, and from religious to research organizations. The number and importance of these organizations to the overall US economy continues to grow. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) defines not-for-profit organizations by distinguishing them from profit organizations. It defines not-for-profit organizations as entities that possess the following characteristics not usually found in other organizations:

  1. They receive contributions from significant resource providers who do not expect a commensurate or proportionate monetary return.
  2. They operate for purposes other than to make a profit.
  3. There is an absence of ownership interests like those of business enterprises.

NOTE: Item 1 above describes transactions that are sometimes called “nonexchange” transactions. In a typical contribution to a not-for-profit organization, the giver (donor) and the receiver (the not-for-profit organization) do not exchange items of equivalent value—the not-for-profit organization receives the majority of the value in the actual ...

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