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Government and Civic Organizations Offer a World of Activities

By: Yara Zakharia, Esq.

A business pioneer once wrote that "Every private citizen has a public responsibility". For Americans searching for ways to serve their communities and become civically engaged, the sky is the limit. They may choose from a myriad of organizations, government-sponsored or otherwise, that tackle issues of public concern through independent initiatives. The advocacy, grant-making and civil organizations industry consists of four different branches: 1) professional, business, political, labor and similar organizations; 2) social advocacy associations; 3) civic and social associations, including fundraising organizations; and 4) grant-making and giving services. These organizations run the gamut of political ideologies and human activity from soup kitchens and child care centers to the scouts and little leagues. They are referred to as "non profit" organizations since they cannot be classified as business or government. Numerous contributors, including private entities, fund the operations of the advocacy, grant making, and civic organizations. The industry has witnessed a significant increase in donors, due in part to favorable tax treatment of donations. The internet (online databases, interactive websites and email) has enhanced these organizations' ability to inform the public about the causes they advocate and to successfully engage in fundraising.

What follows is an outline of some of the key aforementioned national organizations which continue to shape the American socio-political and economic landscape:

1. Professional organizations

Also dubbed professional bodies or professional associations, professional organizations are typically non-profit societies with a self-governing mandate to further and protect the interests of both society and of members of a specific profession. Professional organizations are charged with licensing practitioners such as accountants and lawyers. An example of a professional organization is the health professionals' association. Individuals who join professional organizations may write-off their membership fees as a business expense.

2. Labor unions

Workers in a host of different industries are oftentimes represented by labor unions, which are legally-authorized to do so. Labor unions promote the interests of their members by engaging in collective bargaining with the latter's employer. They negotiate on behalf of the members in disputes involving benefits, wages, and working conditions and prevent management from breaching contractual provisions. Modern-day labor unions are most visible in the public sector, where they represent teachers and police officers. The majority of labor unions in the U.S. adhere to the AFL-CIO or Change to Win Federation, two prominent umbrella organizations. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation are actively involved in politics and support laws and policies that protect American workers. The AFL-CIO focuses in particular on the global trade agenda.

3. Political organizations

These associations advance the interests of local, state, and national parties, as well as those of the candidates they endorse for public office. Political organizations include political action committees or PACs, which undertake fundraising for individual political candidates or a political party. Many other organizations fall under the 'political organizations' category, including sports associations that manage and regulate sports (at the professional and amateur levels), athletic leagues, and conferences. Political organizations also encompass tenant associations, property owners' associations, as well as homeowners' and condominium associations.

4. Civic and social associations

The U.S. Census Bureau lists more than 45 types of civic and social associations. These organizations are devoted to a specific mission and promote fraternity amongst members sharing similar interests and dedicated to the same goal. Civic and social associations enrich the nation's social fabric, and they do so by relying on financial contributions from their members and the public and on services provided by volunteers and paid staff. Some of the popular civic and social associations include the following:

· alumni clubs

· book discussion clubs

· classic car clubs

· ethnic associations

· fraternal associations or lodges

· garden clubs

· historical clubs

· parent-teachers' associations

· poetry clubs

· retirement associations

· senior citizens' associations

· students' unions

· women's auxiliaries

· youth civic clubs.