Skip to main content


Smaller version

A Community Service Organization (CSO) is a nonprofit organization created specifically to provide services to the public or to a defined group of people (e.g., children, unhoused people, immigrants). Because SCOs are not created by or directly associated with the government, they fall into the category of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), along with Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) and Civic Associations. A CSO is not legally the same as a Civic Organization, which is a membership-based club, society, or association formed for the mutual benefit of a specific cohort of people (e.g., veterans, college students, women, union members). But Civic Organizations typically do provide services that benefit local communities and national or international causes. 

While not explicitly religious, many community service and civic organizations (e.g., The Boy Scouts of America, Elks, Habitat for Humanity, YMCA, YWCA), do have historical connections to religious traditions, and many coordinate with Faith-Based Organizations on projects of mutual concern. Together, CSOs, FBOs, and other NGOs can be seen as cultivating and reinforcing a public ethic of compassion, service, and social trust that is critical to democratic societies. As such, they are seen as generating both social and moral capital in communities.