Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States: A Reader

Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States: A Reader

Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States: A Reader

Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States: A Reader


Unique among nations, America conducts almost all of its formally organized religious activity, and many cultural, arts, human service, educational, and research activities through private nonprofit organizations. This reader explores their history by presenting some of the classic documents in the development of the nonprofit sector along with important interpretations and critiques by recent scholars. Each selection has been chosen to define or illuminate important questions in the development of the nonprofit sector in the United States, beginning with early 17th-century documents and ending with a 1991 Supreme Court decision.


The Growth of the Nonprofit Sector in the United States

Americans conduct almost all of their formally organized religious activity, and many cultural and arts, human service, educational and research activities, through private nonprofit organizations. American nonprofits have always received substantial support from local, state, and federal governments, and from fees paid by those who use their services, but they have also always relied on donations and voluntary service. American nonprofits have always pursued their particular missions, enjoying considerable independence from government. To carry out their diverse missions, the largest American nonprofits have amassed remarkable resources. They have acquired some of the most impressive hospital, university, performing arts, and museum facilities and collections in the world. They have also amassed a considerable number of large endowments, including many that surpass one billion dollars. Americans also work through hundreds of thousands of small nonprofits, most of which have no tangible resources at all.

No other nation manages its religious, cultural, social service, health care, and educational activities in this way (although in recent years Great Britain, Canada, Israel, and a few other nations have moved in this direction). “Nongovernmental,” nonprofit human service organizations exist in many other countries, but nowhere do they employ anything like 10% of the labor force, a reasonable estimate of their share of the U.S. labor force. Nowhere else do nonprofits own such impressive facilities, or hold such large endowments. in most of the world, governments and tax-supported religious groups continue to provide all—or nearly all—social service, higher education, health care, and opera, orchestral music, and museum exhibitions.

How did the United States come to rely so heavily on nonprofits? Why has it continued to do so? What are the consequences? What purposes do Americans seek to advance through their use of nonprofits? Whose purposes do nonprofits best serve? How have Americans sought to control nonprofits? How have the expansions of both state and federal government in twentieth-century America affected nonprofits?

These questions are of pressing interest to those who lead nonprofit organizations, to those who are concerned about the contributions and potential problems and abuses of nonprofit activity, and to those inter-

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