The Importance of Public Health Nonprofits: Top 5 to Watch

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Public health workers meeting patients in an outdoor clinic.

As students learn when pursuing a Master of Public Health, the public health field encompasses disease prevention, wellness promotion and public education on the importance of healthy behaviors. It’s one of the few areas of health care focused on proactive prevention rather than reactive treatment.

Public health initiatives in schools establish the importance of a healthy diet, good hygiene and physical fitness. Instilling these best practices early in people’s lives can lead to them becoming healthy adults who make good decisions. Additionally, public health policy works to prevent disease outbreaks and the spread of viruses like COVID-19.

Those who are interested in working in the field should learn about public health nonprofits, organizations that work to promote health initiatives. These organizations can be rich educational resources, and may offer job opportunities and internships for recent graduates.

What Is a Public Health Nonprofit?

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, a nonprofit is an organization that operates under a set of ideals to accomplish something for the common good while not paying out profits. In America alone, over 1.3 million nonprofit organizations are currently active, helping the needy, feeding the hungry and promoting social programs and initiatives.

Public health nonprofits are involved in promoting disease prevention, health education and public health research. All nonprofits — public health or otherwise — may be eligible for tax-exempt status as detailed in section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code. Tax-exempt status is one of the major advantages of being a nonprofit.

How Health Care Nonprofits Benefit Public Health

Nonprofit health care companies and organizations are champions of healthy communities and promote health equity, particularly in underserved and vulnerable communities. They provide a wide array of services ranging from providing shelter to refugees, to deploying health care resources to natural disaster victims. In addition to responding to public health crises, nonprofits:

  • Educate the community on public health matters to encourage them to make healthier choices
  • Prevent health disparities caused by unequal distribution of resources
  • Research epidemiology and prepare for potential outbreaks of communicable diseases, bacteria and viruses
  • Work with government and local agencies to shape public health policies and create educational programs

Top 5 Public Health Nonprofits

These public health nonprofits are recognized as leaders in the public health space due to their longevity, far-reaching impact and dedication to the core ideals of public health.

World Health Organization (WHO)

Not long after the United Nations was formed in 1945, the World Health Organization (WHO) made its debut in 1948. The WHO serves as an international authority on public health issues and champions good health and a better future for all. Some of the health concerns that the WHO addresses are:

  • Health systems, with universal health coverage as the ultimate goal
  • Noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease and stroke
  • Communicable diseases, such as COVID-19
  • Public health emergencies

As part of the United Nations system, the WHO has a far-reaching influence and can provide unique opportunities for public health specialists to explore the world and make a positive impact.

American Public Health Association (APHA)

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is currently celebrating 150 years of service as one of the nation’s leading public health nonprofits. In fact, the APHA was formed right around the time that science was just beginning to understand what causes communicable diseases.

The organization has a long-standing reputation for promoting health equity and being at the forefront of tackling public health issues. In addition to organizing educational campaigns that promote public health, the APHA also publishes the American Journal of Public Health.

The APHA reports that it has more than 25,000 public health professionals as members, and it continues to welcome new members. It offers educational resources and internship opportunities.

CARE International

CARE International was founded in 1945 and is one of the world’s leading humanitarian agencies. Headquartered in Switzerland, the nonsectarian agency impartially delivers emergency relief. The organization’s two main focal points are global poverty and social injustice.

In 2021, CARE International reports that it conducted humanitarian efforts, including health-related efforts, in over 100 countries and worked on close to 1,500 different projects intended to defeat poverty and achieve social justice. CARE International hires individuals for jobs all over the world, including in the United States.

The Carter Center

Founded and named after U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1982, the Carter Center has helped advance peace and public health initiatives in over 80 countries, according to the agency. Guided by the humanitarian principles of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, the organization is dedicated to solving the world’s most difficult problems using careful analysis and relentless persistence.

The Carter Center is self-described as a nonpartisan organization that is willing to collaborate with other organizations, government agencies and local communities that share their ideals and are dedicated to helping those most in need. The Carter Center currently offers many career opportunities as well as internships and graduate assistantships.

The Public Health Foundation

Formed in 1970, the Public Health Foundation (PHF) is a public health nonprofit that has developed a variety of tools, resources and programs to improve public health outcomes. It provides educational resources to individuals, health agencies and organizations to aid them in their public health initiatives.

The TRAIN Learning Network offered through PHF has trained and educated more than 3 million public health workers, according to the agency. Additionally, the PHF reports it offers over 100 quality improvement tools to help public health agencies operate more effectively and efficiently.

Some current public health projects PHF is working on are improving the safety of drinking water, controlling West Nile virus and mobilizing community partners to decrease the incidence of Zika virus.

How to Keep Up with Public Health Nonprofits

These public health nonprofits are outspoken about their work, and they encourage people to follow their projects and accomplishments. Those who are interested in keeping up with a particular organization should do the following:

  • Subscribe to their email list and newsletter
  • Follow them on social media
  • Read and subscribe to their blog
  • Follow their YouTube (or other video platform) channels

Their websites are also rich sources of information about what they strive to do and the projects they are currently working on. Most nonprofit websites also contain information about joining their organizations. By keeping up with public health organizations, you can continue to increase your knowledge about important health issues that affect nations and individuals across the globe.

Prepare to Work at a Public Health Nonprofit

Those who are interested in working in nonprofit health care companies or public health organizations should consider investing in their education. A Master of Public Health degree from USC can lay the groundwork for a rewarding career in public health. Students can choose from among six concentrations, which include biostatistics and epidemiology, community health promotion and global health.

Pursue your professional goals to make a difference in public health with USC.


Recommended Readings

How Harm Reduction Services Improve Health Equity and Save Lives

Top 15 Public Health Book List from USC Online MPH Faculty

What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Public Health?



American Public Health Association, About APHA

CARE International

The Carter Center, Our Mission

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Additional Requirement — 15: Proof of Non-profit Status

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Epidemiology

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Disparities

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mission, Role and Pledge

IRS, Charities and Nonprofits

National Council of Nonprofits, What Is a “Nonprofit”?

Public Health Foundation

World Health Organization, About WHO