Document Type


Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


The third sector is currently the most popular categorical label as a summary term for capturing the activities of a highly diverse set of tax-exempt corporations and nonprofit organizations. I draw a sharper-than-usual distinction here between a third sector composed of a million or more social entrepreneurial nonprofit firms and and the voluntary associations, clubs, groups and diverse uncountable volunteer and philanthropic efforts, projects, causes, which I label as commons and which have in recent years been increasingly subsumed under the general heading of civil society. While the voluntary action of commons is a more or less permanent feature of human community, the particular forms of the contemporary national third sectors in the U.S. and elsewhere are unique and momentary products of late 20th century public life and policy, and conditions may already be developing to transform this particular configuration into something new, different, and perhaps even unrecognizable.

Source Citation

A revised version of a paper presented at the 25th anniversary conference, Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. New York, NY. November 8, 1996.



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