Nonprofit Vocabulary

I’ve found there is a fair amount of jargon if you’re not familiar with the nonprofit world. Even if you are, it helps to have a glossary handy just in case things start getting mixed up.

This is just a starter! If you have some terms you deal with every day in the nonprofit world, I’d love to heard about them.


This is a legal distinction which means an organization does not operate for profit, does note have shareholders, and operates for either a religious, charitable, scientific, public safety, literary, or educational purpose, or for the purpose of fostering international sports or preventing cruelty to children or animals.


An institution whose purpose is to distribute funds to colleges, schools, hospitals, charities and the like. These are the “big guns” that you hear as sponsors of NPR like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Community Foundation

Operating similarly to a foundation, community foundations manage the funds of many individual (or group) donors and carry out the charitable interests of those donors. Community foundations are usually geographically aligned with a specific area or state, for example here in the Triangle we have the Triangle Community Foundation.


Tax designation for most nonprofits, foundations, universities and nonprofit hospitals. Contributions to these groups are tax exempt, and all of these organizations are exempt from paying income tax. The “brief” description of this designation can be found on the IRS website.


These groups have started springing up more and more in the post-Citizens United ruling and are in the news quite a lot in the wake of the accusations against the IRS for targeting conservative political action groups. Technically, organizations under this designation promote “social welfare” and may take part in politics, elections, and lobbying. Unlike their (c)(3) cousins, contributions to these groups are not tax-deductible, and organizations do not have to disclose who their contributors are.


An award, which does not have to be repaid, usually given to a nonprofit organization but also to individuals. These awards may have certain strings attached, to which the grantee much comply in order to receive the grant and be eligible for future awards.

Matching Grant

This is a common example of a grant with strings attached. Many times for large campaigns, a foundation or grant-making authority will grant an organization money if that organization can match the amount given in other contributions. For example, the Rachel B. Johnson Foundation will award a $50,000 grant to the Ashby is a Cute Kitten Charity once the ACKC raises $50,000 from its other donors.


Now we’re getting into the weeds! Once a nonprofit, foundation, etc. reaches the point where it has more than $250,000 in the bank at a time (the maximum the FDIC will insure), usually it will begin investing some of its assets in order to split up the amount into separate accounts which will be insure-able, and to continue growing its wealth.

The total value of an organization’s financial assets is known as its endowment, and can be organized (in legal terms) as a public charity, private foundation, or a trust. Beyond this there are some restrictions of how much money can be held in an endowment, particularly if you are a university, and the weeds start getting deeper. If you’re really really into this stuff, I’d check out the Wikipedia page as a starter.


Certainly it’s not THIS easy…

I was SUPER nervous Friday afternoon.  I was about to drive to Durham and have my first informational interview with the director of communications at the Triangle Community Foundation.  I spoke with Kelly Harrell for over an hour and had the BEST time, and neither of us noticed how late it was.  I am fairly certain that all interviews can NOT be this easy, can they?  All my nervousness and changing my clothes sixteen million times was completely unfounded, and I got a great look into the work of a foundation, and an introduction to the nonprofit community in the Triangle.

First off, it truly is a community.  Everyone supports each other, and though there is occasionally drama, at the end of the day, everyone who works with nonprofits or the foundation is just trying to do good and make a difference.  The organization honestly runs a lot like my sorority, which makes sense since sororities are technically non-profit organizations.  TCF  has to coordinate its own initiatives (one of which is a program for sending underprivileged kids to camp!) while also managing charitable funds from individual or family donors, and corporate donors and approving grants so all of this money gets to the people who need it.  Kelly’s job is to fill in wherever she is needed while overseeing the communications areas.  For instance this week she was writing speeches for board members, and recently she worked with designers to create a brochure for their strategic plan (she wrote the majority of this brochure, to boot!).    Her role reminded me a lot of being the Vice President of Communications at AOII because I too was always filling in different roles, taking care of whatever needed to be done.  This is really exciting, challenging work because it’s different every day, every week, every month! I could really see myself in this kind of position.

The area of her job Kelly said she didn’t like so much was, ironically enough for me, the social media aspects.  She said she’s not such a big fan of Twitter, and doesn’t use Facebook so much so she is glad to have an assistant that can handle some of that for her!  Kelly’s background is journalism and communications, and she wished she had time to create more multimedia content for the site.  For example, she wishes she could have an interactive version of a timeline brochure that the foundation printed during its 25th anniversary.  I told her we had just learned how to do that in Flash, and I knew I could find someone to make a really great time line, she was thrilled!  Another idea she had was to film short interviews of some of the board members and nonprofit workers who have interesting stories to tell, and then put these up on the website somewhere, probably with a written transcript or blog entry.  This is exactly the kind of thing I really enjoyed doing in my journalism classes at Ole Miss and I was so excited when she described the project.  I don’t know if it is capstone-worthy, because I want to really stretch myself and do some research for my capstone, but I think it would be a great project for my portfolio.  Plus it would be an amazing opportunity to get to know the nonprofit community in the Triangle, and for them to meet me!

I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting a couple other members of the TCF, and working more with Kelly in the future.  If this meeting is any indication, I know I’ll have no problems with info. interviews in the future!

About this Job Market….

It may seem crazy, but I’m already thinking about post-grad jobs.  For those of you keeping track at home, I’ve been in the program for almost 2 months, which means 8 months to go before I actually need a job.  This time, last year, I was NOT in the same mindset.  I had a senior thesis to begin, football games and ultimate tourneys to attend, and I was finally 21 and in college! Jobs were clearly not on my mind.  Which is why I’m in grad school.  Kidding, but really, I wasn’t ready to enter the job market at that point.  I was looking for a killer skill set to accompany my killer degree, and since acquiring that skill set is going so well, I’m feeling really positive about the job search process.

Part of this positivity is due to our fabulous career counselor, Mr. Ross Wade.  Being in a room with him, you can’t help but catch his enthusiasm for targeting goals, finding strengths, and networking.  After our meeting today, I felt like I could get any job I wanted! Granted, I know there is a lot of work ahead of me, but it will be rewarding work.  The kind of work that makes you hash out what you really want, your favorite types of jobs, and the kinds of people you’d like to work with.

Maybe I’m the only iMedia student blogging about this, but there have GOT to be other grad students out there thinking the same things.  As an undergrad, the ‘real’ world seems so scary; it’s a place without safety nets, professors, friends, or ample time to laugh at YouTube in the sorority living room.  Now, I’m feeling much more equipped to enter the real world with some really marketable skills.  And, thankfully, I’m also feeling more confident about the path I’ve chosen.  The subject matter is actually valid within academia, which keeps alive my little pilot-light of a dream of getting a PhD and becoming a professor somewhere down the road.  But the subject matter is also constantly changing, which satisfies my short attention span.  It’s a win-win-win.