15 Historical Nonprofit Moments You Should Know


When was the first volunteer organization created in the U.S.? 1736! Were donations to charities always tax-deductible? No! 

There are many questions and facts about nonprofits that may surprise people that work in the industry. It is important to understand the history of nonprofit organizations in order to see where the future may go. 

Nonprofit organizations actually pre-date the constitution and formation of America. Famously, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1831: “I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another”. 

  1. The Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1736, was the first volunteer-based organization in U.S. focused on fighting fires. 
  2. The first nonprofit organization in the United States was the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, founded in 1775. 
  3. The first ‘modern’ nonprofit is considered to be The Peabody Education Fund, founded in 1867 with the purpose of integrating poor white and formerly enslaved people in the south. 
  4. The United Way was founded by religious leaders in 1887 in Denver, originally called the Charity Organizations Society. 
  5. The first federal tax exemption for nonprofit organizations was enacted in 1894. 
  6. The beginning of the modern IRS tax exemption structure for the nonprofit sector in the U.S. Tax Code legislation was enacted between 1894 and 1969.
  7. Revenue Act of 1909 created a Federal Tax Exemption for charitable organizations’ revenue. 
  8. The Revenue Act of 1917 created the individual income tax deduction for charitable gifts during WW1 when tax rates were rising. 
  9. The first community foundation was established in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. 
  10. The first nonprofit organization to be designated as a private foundation by the IRS was the Ford Foundation, in 1956
  11. Creation of Americorps in 1993 under Clinton administration with the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993.
  12. The first National Conference on Volunteering and Service was held in 2010 kicked off in the Obama administration
  13. First Giving Tuesday launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y. The day focused on becoming the largest single day of giving following Cyber Monday. 
  14. The first legislation specifically addressing the needs of the nonprofit sector was the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013. (opinion) 
  15. The first White House Summit on Philanthropy was held in 1999 in the Clinton administration.