I was proofreading something the other day and the word “Non Profit” was in the text. I wondered if that was correct. It became quite the rabbit hole.

Automatic capitalization is out. You should only capitalize if it’s part of a title, name, or starts a sentence. So the debate is largely “nonprofit” vs. “non-profit”

  • Google fight turns up far more usage of “non-profit.”
  • Wikipedia hyphenates the title of the article, but uses both styles throughout the article nearly equally.
  • My friend Justin who is getting a Masters in [this field] management, says in living and breathing this stuff for years, “nonprofit” is what is used “inside the bubble.
  • The biggest academic publication is Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.
  • There is the publication Nonprofit Quarterly.
  • Some say the context matters, as in, if it’s being used as a noun e.g. “I work for a nonprofit.” or if “non” is being used to modify the word “profit” as a noun. “This is a non-profit organization.”
  • The AP stylebook says it’s non hyphenated.
  • It may depend on the country you are in, U.S. being “nonprofit” and U.K. being “non-profit.”
  • Asking my own twitter followers, “non-profit” was far more common a response.
  • My master’s degree friend from above polled his twitter followers and “nonprofit” was far more common a response.
  • People that work for them even have different opinions, or just don’t know.
  • Some dictionaries have both. If they only have one or the other, they have “nonprofit.”


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8 responses to “Non???Profit”

  1. Great post Chris. I wrote it up on my blog and directed people over here to read your conversation. I appreciate your looking into this.

  2. Kevin says:

    Well, I would be inclined to say non-profit, but apparently I’m just as clueless as you are. I have to trust merriam-webster here though, and say that it’s nonprofit. You can do a search for non-profit and even add some hyphens and it will redirect you to nonprofit. If you intentionally misspell it however, (i.e. noneprofit or something of that nature) the only entry listed in the recommendations comes up as nonprofit.

    I hate to sound like a Webster snob, but when all else fails, and every other dictionary doesn’t give me the answers I’m looking for, Webster becomes the enforcer and fatality move of any possible argument I could be having at the time.

    I guess from now on it’s nonprofit for me. Just one more spread of ignorance. I recently found out that I’d been spelling dilemma wrong for 30 years as well. For some reason, the spelling “dilemna” prevailed throughout the midwest in the 80s. My best guess is that we all just ended up with a crappy spelling book, but after scouring the internet to find that millions of other people also ran into this problem, I’ve turned up nothing.

  3. Andrew Greenberg says:

    For SEO purposes would it be best to mix non profit, nonprofit and non-profit in copy?

  4. An English Person says:

    True English, what English people speak call it non-profit-making. Americans call it non-profit. Those are the technically correctly spellings.

    But the USA do not speak true English. Often misspelling words such as:


    Americans do not understand simple English like:

    Spain are the champions

    But America would say.

    Spain is the champion.

    Sawed is not a word. Sawn is.

  5. TeMc says:

    So, my interpretation is:

    * Officially it’s nonprofit
    * We, the mass, the internet users, demand on using non-profit. And every use of it contributes to it. We all do what we all do like a bunch of monkeys. This is how most words came into existance, and that’s how most words are changes. The community decides, the internal or official people have nothing to say, and will eventually change the official thing.


  6. Andrew S. Roberts says:

    Chris, it amazes me that you took the time to research something like this. Very cool! :)

  7. Tighe says:

    I work with several nonprofit organizations and it bothers me how both “non-profit” and “nonprofit” are used everywhere… Even look at the IRS website, the people with the power to give these organizations their tax-exempt statuses, and they use both versions on the same page (

  8. […] has always been a dilemma of mine and when I saw this post by Chris Coyer titled Non???Profit it makes a good case and backs it up with insider […]

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