Steele County Nonprofits

Steele County Nonprofits

I frequently get asked the question “how many nonprofits are in Steele County”?  It seems like a reasonable question since United Way formally funds 16 locally operating nonprofits and partner each year with 6-10 other nonprofits, charities, and other tax exempt organizations. 

What’s the difference in these terms?  The term “nonprofit” in many cases is synonymous with “charity” and can be used interchangeably.  However, when used colloquially the word charity typically refers to those organizations providing human services and basic needs – like a food pantry or crisis domestic violence services.  Nonprofits can be arts organizations, professional organizations, athletic clubs, hobby clubs, educational programs – which we typically don’t refer to as charities - or human services agencies – which are also called charities.  These organizations all receive an exempt status from the IRS.  Other tax exempt organizations include churches, school organization, government agencies, and foundations. 

In Steele County there are well over 200 active tax exempt organization registered with the IRS.  These are just the ones with Steele County mailing addresses (including a couple I’m not sure why they have local mailing addresses because they operate out of another state) I did a survey of the 189 with Owatonna addresses and found that only 19 of them are human services organizations.  The largest category was “hobby” with 27 organizations which includes a wide variety of interests such as woodworking, 4-H, firearms, dog breed enthusiasts, and Czechoslovak interests.  Athletic organizations accounted for 24 of them; everything from the Curling club to various youth and adult sports associations.  Another 24 were professional organizations including 7 different Farm Bureaus from several different counties – not sure why they all have Owatonna addresses but they do.  There are 24 civic or fraternal organizations and 15 local foundations. 

What does this mean? Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of why United Way of Steele County funds a relatively small number of organizations.  Our mission is to provide funding to programs that provide DIRECT HUMAN SERVICES.  That means services are provided to a person; your neighbor, your mom, your co-worker.  We also expect for the programs to have measurable outcomes beyond just attendance: we expect lives to be changed. Further the services should be related to the three building blocks of a healthy community: income, education, and health.    We fund 16 agencies that are meeting those conditions. 

It also means that we understand you have a lot of places to donate your money.  Many people give broadly and generously throughout our community based on their personal interests and involvement.  Well done! This demonstrates the strength of our community and our bond to each other.  I just ask that you also think about your neighbors in need and plan to include United Way in your giving.  As I said above, we represent the majority of human service nonprofits in our county which are changing lives for the better.  This is a democratic philanthropic process because we accept donations of all sizes and from across culture and fund programs which are providing vitally needed services across the demographics of our community. The United Way process of helping individuals get and keep a living wage job, have access to education starting in pre-school, and have the ability to live a healthful lifestyle regardless of income is worth everyone supporting in some way.

Kim Schaufenbuel is the Executive Director of United Way of Steele County.  She can be reached at 507-455-1180 or via email at