Ask Difference

Nonprofit vs. Foundation — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 18, 2024
Nonprofits are organizations that work for social, educational, or charitable purposes without profit motives, whereas foundations typically provide funding and support through grants to other nonprofits.
Nonprofit vs. Foundation — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Nonprofit and Foundation


Key Differences

Nonprofits are typically organizations that operate for the benefit of the public interest in areas like education, charity, or arts. Whereas foundations are a type of nonprofit that specifically focuses on supporting these initiatives through financial grants. Both operate under the umbrella of nonprofit status but serve different functional roles within the sector.
Nonprofits can engage directly in various activities and services that address specific societal issues. On the other hand, foundations generally do not operate programs themselves but instead fund external projects or organizations that align with their mission. This structural difference defines their distinct impacts and operational models.
The funding source for nonprofits often includes donations, grants, and fundraising events, aiming to support their ongoing activities directly. Conversely, foundations usually have a significant endowment and provide financial support through earnings generated from these assets. The financial strategies of each reflect their operational goals and needs.
Governance in nonprofits usually involves a board of directors and volunteers focused on direct mission achievements. Whereas foundations often have a smaller, possibly more specialized governance structure focused on strategic grantmaking and asset management.
Nonprofits must adhere to strict transparency and reporting standards to maintain their tax-exempt status and public trust. Foundations, while also requiring compliance with similar regulations, often operate with more privacy, especially in their grant allocation processes.

Comparison Chart


An organization working for public interest without seeking profit.
A nonprofit that provides grants to support other nonprofits.

Main Function

Direct involvement in social, educational, or charitable activities.
Funding external projects aligning with a specific mission.

Funding Sources

Donations, grants, fundraising events.
Endowments, investment income.

Operational Model

Program operation and service delivery.
Grantmaking and financial support.

Regulatory Compliance

Must adhere to transparency and reporting requirements.
Also adheres to regulations, often with more privacy in grant decisions.

Compare with Definitions


Relies heavily on volunteers and community support.
The festival was successful largely due to the nonprofit's dedicated volunteers.


An institution funded by an endowment to support charitable activities through grants.
The foundation awards grants to innovative tech solutions for environmental issues.


Operates across various sectors including health, culture, and education.
The nonprofit operates a series of cultural programs to enhance community engagement.


Manages its own wealth through investments to sustain its grantmaking ability.
The foundation invests in a diverse portfolio to ensure long-term operational funding.


An organization serving public or societal benefits without profit motives.
The nonprofit provides free educational resources to underprivileged communities.


Typically does not directly execute programs but focuses on financial contributions.
The foundation has funded the building of several local libraries.


Often competes for grants and public funding.
The nonprofit submitted a proposal to secure a government grant for their new project.


Governed by a board that decides on the strategic allocation of grants.
The foundation's board meets annually to review and adjust its grantmaking strategies.


A legal entity with tax-exempt status due to its charitable purposes.
As a registered nonprofit, the group does not pay income tax on donations.


Operates with a specific mission or focus area.
The foundation focuses on supporting education and literacy programs globally.


Not seeking or producing a profit or profits
A nonprofit organization.


The lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level
Foundations were being dug for a block of flats
Build the arch resting on top of this solid foundation


An organization, such as a charity, that does not seek or produce a profit
Donated money to local nonprofits.


An underlying basis or principle
Physics, the foundation of all the sciences
Without stability, the country will not be able hold the elections that will lay the foundation for a peaceful and democratic future
This idea is the foundation of all modern economics


Not seeking to produce a profit a financial gain.


The action of establishing an institution or organization
The foundation of a civil service college


Ellipsis of nonprofit organizationan organization that exists for reasons other than to make a profit, such as a charitable, educational or service organization.


The act of founding, especially the establishment of an institution with provisions for future maintenance.


Not commercially motivated


(Architecture) A wall or other structure, as of concrete or masonry, usually extending below ground level and forming the base upon which a building rests.


Something that gives rise to or supports something else.


The act of founding, fixing, establishing, or beginning to erect.
The foundation of his institute has been wrought with difficulty.


That upon which anything is founded; that on which anything stands, and by which it is supported; the lowest and supporting layer of a superstructure; underbuilding.


(figurative) The result of the work to begin something; that which stabilizes and allows an enterprise or system to develop.


(card games) In solitaire or patience games, one of the piles of cards that the player attempts to build, usually holding all cards of a suit in ascending order.


(architecture) The lowest and supporting part or member of a wall, including the base course and footing courses; in a frame house, the whole substructure of masonry.
The foundations of this construction have been laid out.


A donation or legacy appropriated to support a charitable institution, and constituting a permanent fund; endowment.


That which is founded, or established by endowment; an endowed institution or charity.
The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is the parent organization of the Wiktionary collaborative project.


(cosmetics) Cosmetic cream roughly skin-colored, designed to make the face appear uniform in color and texture.


A basis for social bodies or intellectual disciplines.


The act of founding, fixing, establishing, or beginning to erect.


That upon which anything is founded; that on which anything stands, and by which it is supported; the lowest and supporting layer of a superstructure; groundwork; basis.
Behold, I lay in Zion, for a foundation, a stone . . . a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.
The foundation of a free common wealth.


A donation or legacy appropriated to support a charitable institution, and constituting a permanent fund; endowment.
He was entered on the foundation of Westminster.


That which is founded, or established by endowment; an endowed institution or charity; as, the Ford Foundation.
Against the canon laws of our foundation.


The basis on which something is grounded;
There is little foundation for his objections


An institution supported by an endowment


The fundamental assumptions from which something is begun or developed or calculated or explained;
The whole argument rested on a basis of conjecture


Lowest support of a structure;
It was built on a base of solid rock
He stood at the foot of the tower


Education or instruction in the fundamentals of a field of knowledge;
He lacks the foundation necessary for advanced study
A good grounding in mathematics


A woman's undergarment worn to give shape to the contours of the body

Common Curiosities

How do foundations decide who to give grants to?

Foundations have a board that reviews applications and allocates grants based on alignment with their mission and the potential impact of the project.

What happens to the profits a nonprofit makes?

Profits in a nonprofit are reinvested back into the organization to further its mission, rather than distributed to owners or shareholders.

How does a foundation support other nonprofits?

Foundations support by providing financial grants that nonprofits use to fund their activities and projects.

What are the tax benefits for a nonprofit?

Nonprofits have tax-exempt status, meaning they don't pay income tax on the money they receive for their charitable activities.

Are all foundations the same?

No, foundations can vary greatly in size, scope, and focus area depending on their established mission and endowment.

Can an individual start a foundation?

Yes, an individual can start a foundation, typically by donating a substantial initial amount to establish the endowment.

What is the primary goal of a nonprofit?

The primary goal is to address a societal need or benefit the public without profit motives.

Can a nonprofit also be a foundation?

Yes, a foundation is a specific type of nonprofit focused mainly on grantmaking.

What kind of transparency is required from nonprofits?

Nonprofits must provide regular financial reports and disclose major funding sources to maintain public trust and regulatory compliance.

Do nonprofits have shareholders?

No, nonprofits do not have shareholders and any profits must be reinvested into their mission.

Can foundations engage directly in charitable activities?

While they primarily focus on funding, some foundations do engage directly in charitable initiatives.

How do nonprofits generate revenue?

They generate revenue through donations, grants, fundraising events, and sometimes selling goods or services aligned with their mission.

Do foundations pay taxes?

Foundations have tax-exempt status but may pay taxes on investment income not related to their charitable purpose.

What is an endowment in the context of a foundation?

An endowment is a fund established to finance a foundation's activities, usually from a single major donation or a collection of gifts.

What are the biggest challenges facing nonprofits and foundations today?

Both face challenges in securing sustainable funding, achieving long-term impact, and adapting to changing regulatory and economic conditions.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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