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A Community Service Organization (CSO) is a nonprofit organization created to provide services to the greater public or to a defined group of people (e.g., children, unhoused people, immigrants, ethnic groups, etc.). Because CSOs 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.


Community service organizations (like other types of voluntary organizations) promote democratic practices and contribute to democratic societies because they are often community-based, values-driven, and self-governing as well as address gaps in the social safety net (Baggett 2001; Chen et al. 2013; Eliasoph 2013).

We use the term to identify groups that work for the common good within the context of a democratic society and for organizations that are created to serve broader human needs such as providing food, shelter, education, clothing, and healthcare; facilitate social and political participation; or provide a combination of services. CSOs may work with religious congregations and organizations associated with specific religious communities, but they are distinctly separate entities.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) are forms of community services that developed specifically from institutional religious roots. They may take an independent organizational form, or they may represent larger umbrella organizations or federations. An example of an independent, local faith-based organization is Sacred Heart Community Service.  

Other examples of FBOs include organizations like Jewish Silicon Valley or Santa Maria Urban Ministry that are under the auspices of a regional or national organization such as a denomination, diocese, or synod. CSOs may also be explicitly nonreligious, for example, Go Humanity (formerly the Beyond Belief Network) and local affiliates such as the Atheist Community of San Jose.

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. 

Works Cited

    • Baggett, Jerome. 2001. Habitat for Humanity: Building Private Homes, Building Public Religion. Temple University Press.
    • Chen, Katerine K., Howard Lune, and Edward L. Queen, II. 2013. “How Values Shape and Are Shaped by Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations: The Current State of the Field,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42(5), p. 856-885. 
    • Eliasoph, Nina. 2013. The Politics of Volunteering. Polity Press.