Blurring the Lines Between Non and For-Profit

In the world of philanthropy and social good, the lines between nonprofit and for-profit entities can often blur, leading to common misconceptions about the organizational structures behind some of the most beloved brands. A nonprofit organization is one that is dedicated to furthering a particular social cause or advocating for a shared point of interest. Unlike for-profit organizations, nonprofits do not distribute profits to their owners or shareholders; instead, any surplus revenues are reinvested in the organization to help achieve its purpose.

Always look beyond the surface to understand the real impact of your contributions and the true essence of the organization you are supporting.

However, several organizations widely perceived as nonprofits operate more similarly to a for-profit entity. Here’s a closer look at three such entities:

National Geographic Society (Nat Geo)

National Geographic is renowned for its stunning visual storytelling and dedication to science and exploration. While the National Geographic Society itself is a nonprofit entity, it entered into a for-profit partnership with 21st Century Fox in 2015, which was later acquired by The Walt Disney Company. This partnership, known as National Geographic Partners, manages the magazine and other media ventures, blurring public perceptions of its nonprofit status.

United States Olympic Committee (USOC)

The USOC is often assumed to be a nonprofit or a government-funded entity due to its role in training, entering, and funding U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American, and Parapan American Games. While it does operate as a nonprofit, its commercial partnerships and licensing deals often give it the appearance of a for-profit business, leading to some confusion about its true nature.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design)

TED Talks, known for their “ideas worth spreading,” have become a global phenomenon. TED operates as a nonprofit under the name “The Sapling Foundation,” but its extensive activities, including conferences, books, and a host of media products, exist within a for-profit framework that helps sustain its growth and operations. This dual structure allows TED to operate within both capacities.


As the distinctions between nonprofit and for-profit blur, it is also essential to recognize the emergence of hybrid forms of organizations, such as social benefit organizations and B Corps. These entities are designed to yield profits but also have a strong commitment to community benefit, which is central to their business models. B Corps, for instance, are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

While for-profit companies with a social mission can make significant positive impacts, it is crucial for donors, supporters, and consumers to understand the true nature of an organization’s operations and intentions. Always look beyond the surface to understand the real impact of your contributions and the true essence of the organization you are supporting.