The pace and direction of today’s world is overwhelmingly dictated by the decisions and actions of large organizations. In our recent past, power was consolidated amongst a very small group of people, sometimes single individuals such as monarchs and dictators. Of course, this is still the case in various parts of the world, but for the most part we’ve moved past it. The real power is held - for the most part - by governments and corporations.
Governments have legal and political control over their respective populations, which is the most direct kind of control. On the other hand, the kind of power that corporations wield is a little bit trickier to pin down and accurately identify. They influence governments through lobbying and influence the public through mass advertising and other mechanisms. Most people looking to make any meaningful change in the world will use either government or the corporate world as their avenue - but there is another way.
Non-profit organizations have a somewhat deceiving title. Organizations designated as non-profit (NPO’s) receive various tax benefits from their respective domestic governments, as by definition they are required to immediately reinvest any potential profits into the organization’s designated activities. However, it’s important to make the distinction between ‘non-profit’ and ‘poor’. Despite not holding onto and distributing any profits from organizational activities, NPO’s can still be absurdly rich. High ranking members in these organizations can still take home very nice salaries and the bank accounts for these NPO’s can easily be in the 7 figures. Some of these names you’ve probably never encountered before while others you’re probably very familiar with, but the one thing they all have in common is a seriously stacked company account. These are the richest non-profit organizations on the planet.
10 #10 Smithsonian Institute - Annual Budget: $1,240,978,409
The name of the Smithsonian Institute is most likely at least somewhat familiar to anyone who grew up in the United States or happened to watch any of Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure movies (hopefully you didn’t have to endure the latter). At its core, the Smithsonian is an organization tasked with the preservation and spread of knowledge to the general public - all at no cost. Visitors can gain free entry into any of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 9 research centres and 1 zoo - all located in Washington DC - completely free of charge. The same goes for any of the Smithsonian’s 168 affiliate museums across the country. The organization’s nearly $1.25 billion budget comes almost entirely from private donations, government backing, and the institution’s own sizeable endowment.
9 #9 Easter Seals - Annual Budget: $1,402,531,662
Easter Seals is an international NPO whose main objective is raising awareness and providing services and assistance to adults and children with special needs, with a particular focus on autism. They provide services such as residential housing, job training, adult day programs for adults with severe mental disabilities, substance abuse programs, and therapy for all kinds of disabilities. The increasing prevalence of autism decade after decade has made Easter Seals double down on their efforts at providing therapy and services to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It has sites primarily in the English speaking western world, namely the United States, Canada, Australia and the UK. Its annual operating budget of around $1.4 billion means that its divisions receive adequate funding to provide the services they are mandated to provide.
8 #8 Boys & Girls Club of America - Annual Budget: $1,458,282,307
The Boys & Girls Club of America has played an integral part in the lives of America’s youth since its founding. The NPO’s main objective is providing after-school programs for young people - particularly those living in lower-class neighbourhoods who generally are involved in fewer extra-curricular activities. There are 4,704 club facilities across the continental United States, and the organization’s activities are believed to reach approximately 4 million American youth each year. The Boys & Girls Club of America is partially funded by the government of the United States, with additional funding by private donors. Numerous celebrity figures have been involved with their programs as children, including Adam Sandler, Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lopez, among others.
7 #7 Habitat For Humanity International - Annual Budget: $1,490,610,954
Housing is maddeningly expensive and completely out of reach for the poorest segments of society; that’s where Habitat For Humanity comes in. Their mission is to completely build homes from the ground up using volunteer labor and then sell those homes to people in need at the cost of the materials - sometimes even less than that. It was founded in 1976 as a primarily christian charitable organization, but the success it encountered engendered it to secular and religious crowds alike. They are usually one of the first groups on site preparing to rebuild after natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. They are based out of Americus, Georgia, but use their nearly $1.5 billion budget on projects all over the world.
6 #6 The Salvation Army - Annual Budget: $3,203,811,000
Although it’s recently been confused as a thrift shop for middle-class hipsters to find ironic sweaters and vintage trinkets, the Salvation Army was actually founded as a spiritual quasi-military in 1865 that was tasked with bringing - you guessed it - salvation to the poor and the destitute. Over the years this mission has evolved into providing charity stores, running homeless shelters, and providing aid and disaster relief to poorer countries faced with calamity. The organization boasts worldwide membership of almost 1.5 million people and a presence in over 126 nations all over the world. With a 150-year history, a $3.2 billion budget and a recognizable name, the Salvation Army is one of the most important NPO’s in the world.
5 #5 American Red Cross - Annual Budget: $3,452,960,387
Like the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross is another charitable organization that’s extremely well-known and beloved by the general public. Originally founded in 1881 as primarily a vehicle for domestic humanitarian aid in the event of catastrophe within the United States, the organization has expanded into many other similar programs. Today they are involved with the collection and distribution of blood provided by donors, community services for low-income individuals, educational programs, and an enhanced international presence. The organization has an operating budget of almost $3.5 billion, funded mostly by private donations, and is a regular presence at national disaster sites all over the world.
4 #4 United Way - Annual Budget: $4,139,536,549
United Way is different from many of the other organizations on this list, as it doesn't’ have a particular issue as its main focus. Instead, United Way operates thousands of branches all over the world in various communities. Those branches then address the needs of those particular communities by identifying what issues are affecting the citizens living there and how they can be solved or soothed by action. United Way focuses broadly on health care, family support, services for children and financial aid. With a $4.1 billion operating budget, United Way is one of the most well-funded and organized NPO’s on earth.
3 #3 Catholic Charities - Annual Budget: $4,422,814,987
Although not as famous as some of the previously mentioned names, Catholic Charities has a massive presence across the United States. Its mission statement can be found right in the slogan, which is ‘Working to Reduce Poverty in America’. Catholic Charities leverages its $4.4 billion budget - $2 billion of which comes from federal funding - and 160 agencies nationwide to provide services to the poor and needy, regardless of religious affiliation. Catholic Charities has 65,227 employees and 239,165 volunteers who work together to serve over 9 million needy individuals every year.
2 #2 Goodwill Industries International - Annual Budget: $4,436,965,145
Goodwill is another recognizable name, being one of the largest and most famous charitable organizations in the world. It was founded in Boston in 1902 by the Reverend Edgar J. Helms as primarily a christian missionary. Over time its activities evolved to be of a more secular nature. Goodwill primarily focuses on providing services to individuals with disabilities, as well as their families. They’ve also taken on providing re-integration and rehabilitation for war veterans in addition to those with physical and mental disabilities. Goodwill operates thrift stores that it staffs with people who have difficulty finding employment elsewhere, and also provides services such as employment training and employment placement services. Goodwill uses 82% of its revenue to provide these services, with the other 18% going towards operational costs.
1 #1 YMCA - Annual Budget: $5,986,057,000
An organization so famous that the Village People wrote an absolute classic about it, the YMCA - or Young Men’s Christian Association - has been providing services to communities all over the world for over 170 years. Founded in 1844 by George Williams, the YMCA was initially intended to be a christian organization promoting christian values to young boys through various community programs. As with most of these NPO’s, the YMCA gradually drifted to a more secular model. They have an HQ in Geneva, Switzerland, and operate centres in North America, Europe and Africa. The services offered vary greatly from location to location, but they broadly focus on sports, youth engagement, training services, immigrant services, and many other services unique to the individual communities being serviced. With an operating budget of almost $6 billion, the YMCA is the most powerful and well-known NPO on earth.