Discourses on the nonprofit sector and civil society have elevated awareness of the significant growth of the sector’s roles and responsibilities since the early 1990s in South Korea (hereafter simply Korea). The nonprofit sector has played significant roles in promoting economic progress and democracy in Korea. Based on extensive empirical research and government statistics, this article presents the nature of the Korean nonprofit sector from various angles, including terminology, history, legal frames, size and dimensions, financial resources, changes in philanthropy and volunteer cultures, and social economic perspectives. In addition, the authors discuss contemporary issues for the nonprofit sector based on changes in the social environment.
In discussing the magnitude of the Korean nonprofit sector, this article makes three arguments. First, we confirm that the Korean nonprofit sector has rapidly grown in multidimensional aspects as the legal systems for the nonprofits have developed in Korea since World War II. The growth has been accelerated by strong government supports and initiatives. Second, we argue that lack of conceptual frameworks to identify the nonprofit sector and lack of a centralized administration system have hindered fully catching up on the nature of the nonprofit sector in Korea. Multiple legal frameworks and excessively complicated governing systems for the nonprofit sector have inhibited understanding the size and dimensions of the Korean nonprofit sector. This article further diagnoses the financial structures and the contemporary issues for the Korean nonprofit sector, discussing key suggestions for developing it.