There is no universally accepted definition of the non-profit sector. However, from the standpoint of empirical international research, it is possible to refer to the conceptual framework established within a vast comparative project coordinated by the Johns Hopkins University since 1990.
On such a basis, the non-profit sector consists of organisations with the following characteristics:
- a) they are formal, i.e. they have a certain degree of institutionalisation, which generally presupposes legal personality;
- b) they are private, i.e. distinct from the both state and those organisations issuing directly from the public authorities;
- c) they are independent, in the sense that they must have their own regulations and decision making bodies;
- d) they cannot distribute profits to either their members or their administrators. This "constraint on the distribution of profits" lies at the heart of all the literature on non-profit organisations;
- e) they must involve some level of voluntary participation by volunteers and/or donors, and they must be founded on the free and voluntary affiliation of their members
For more information, visit The Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.