The two defining characteristics of an organization or company operating in the nonprofit industry are that they serve the public interest and are exempt from federal taxes. The US government lists 26 different types of nonprofit organizations, including those founded upon charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or literary missions. Also included are those testing for public safety, fostering international or national amateur sports competitions, and preventing cruelty to animals or children.
Because of the good work that nonprofits do, the government provides a tax exemption. This frees up funds to be poured back into the mission of the organization and, in turn, the public.
Structurally, most non-profit are very similar to for-profit businesses, with boards of directors, membership directors, program officers—a full staff. And though many non-profits run on donations and fundraising, the nonprofit industry contributes a significant amount to the American economy.