Skip Navigation

What’s the difference?

All 24 WAICU members, as well as WAICU itself, are 501(c)(3) nonprofit “public charities.” I recently wrote about the similarities and differences between publicly supported colleges and universities and their nonprofit sister institutions. For example, both offer chemistry, classics, and Chinese. On the other hand, WAICU members focus more on individual instruction and personal attention; the average class size at WAICU members is just 17 students. Students attending a private, nonprofit college or university in Wisconsin have a 68 percent better chance of graduating in four years than students at their public counterparts. WAICU members also enroll and graduate a larger percentage of low-income and minority students. WAICU members receive no direct operating support from the taxpayers.

However, many of these differences are differences of degree and are not fundamental. However, as the saying goes, there is more:

Nonprofit status in the United States is official confirmation that the organization so certified operates for a public purpose and as a public good. This certification underscores that a nonprofit college or university, while privately governed and funded, has as its mission, not to make a profit, but to advance a cause. For example, WAICU’s mission is: “Wisconsin’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities working together for educational opportunity.” We take this very seriously. In everything we do, we ask ourselves how the proposed service, policy or program will advance educational opportunity. We are held accountable by our independent boards, by benefactors, employers, and – most of all – by students for achieving this goal.

Nonprofit organizations, unlike government, have a distinctive way of interacting with the broader community. Nonprofit organizations are occasionally called nongovernmental organizations or NGOs. Because they are not governmental, we do not have authority – often called “coercive power.” [The primary example of “coercive power” is the power to tax.] We advance our mission by civic engagement, moral persuasion, and education.

Nonprofit organizations employ 10.3 percent of the United States workforce – it stands at 12.2 percent of the workforce in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is second in the United States for volunteerism. More than the numbers is the impact of WAICU-member colleges and universities, advancing educational opportunity for tens of thousands of students. As Albert Schweitzer said, “wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the perks for the privilege of doing it. Remember you don’t live in a world all of your own.” And Winston Churchill said, “we make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Have you thanked a nonprofit today?