Nonprofit organizations fill important roles in society. Although nonprofits relieve the burden of social issues on government agencies, provide an outlet for civic engagement and improve the quality of life in a community, most are probably started by people who want to help other people or solve problems. Foundations often identify causes to support based on research that assesses need and impact. Nonprofit causes are often interrelated, so it’s not always necessary to pick one cause. A good cause for a nonprofit might begin and end with what the organizers care about. However the decision is made, there are plenty of causes from which to choose.


Whether it’s called community service, giving back or corporate social engagement, volunteerism is big business for communities and for nonprofits that often have more need than money. Volunteer organizations recruit, train and place volunteers with nonprofits. New ideas for volunteerism, such as skills-based service and e-volunteering, make this an interesting choice. A volunteer matching organization can work with all nonprofits in a community to place volunteers or focus on one issue, such as literacy, domestic violence or environmental protection. Volunteer organizations fill a need for people who want to volunteer through organized programs.


Education, as a nonprofit cause, often meant basic tutoring, homework help and Saturday academies for the motivated student. Nonprofits that focus on education today are likely to hear about the need for student improvement in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math – subjects and the need to increase students’ ability to use technology. Education programs help children and adults improve grades, build knowledge and develop skills. Education nonprofits also work on workforce development issues that affect local communities. Many foundations, like the RGK Foundation, identify education as a critical social issue and include it as a major focus area for funding.

Arts and Culture

Nonprofit organizations that focus on the arts fill a need made greater by decreased funding for the arts in schools and in local communities. Arts organizations point to the benefits of arts programs, such as academic improvement for young students who are exposed regularly to art. Individual donors and foundations contribute to art and culture organizations and support the work of individual artists. A nonprofit can focus on private and group instruction to teach children to play instruments. A community theater group that engages professionals and novices in collaborative projects benefits the entire community.

Community Development

Community development is a good cause for the nonprofit innovators who want to go where the need takes them. Community development nonprofits, which focus on grass-roots efforts and involvement of community members, focus on strengthening communities through economic development and a wide range of responses to local need. Programs might involve poverty initiatives like financial literacy workshops, affordable housing, senior resources or small-business incubators. Community development nonprofits operate programs aimed at foreclosure prevention, leadership development and partnerships with local businesses or corporations.