A number of industrial and commercial organizations exercise considerable influence on economic policy. The National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce, with numerous local branches, are the two central bodies of business and commerce. Various industries have their own associations, concerned with cooperative research and questions of policy alike.
Practically every profession in the United States is represented by one or more professional organizations. Among the most powerful of these are the American Medical Association, comprising regional, state, and local medical societies; the American Bar Association, also comprising state and local associations; the American Hospital Association; and the National Education Association. The most prestigious scientific and technical institution s are the National Academy of Sciences (founded 1863) and the National Academy of Engineering (1964).
Many private organizations are dedicated to programs of political and social action. Prominent in this realm are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Common Cause, and the Anti-Defamation League. The League of Women Voters, which provides the public with nonpartisan information about candidates and election issues, began sponsoring televised debates between the major presidential candidates in 1976. The National Organization for Women, and the National Rifle Association have each mounted nationwide lobbying campaigns on issues affecting their members. There are thousands of political action committees (PACs) that disburse funds to candidates for the House and Senate and other elected offices.
The great privately endowed philanthropic foundations and trusts play an important part in encouraging the development of education, art, science, and social progress in the United States. Prominent foundations include the Carnegie Corporation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Mayo Association for the Advancement of Medical Research and Education, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Private philanthropy was responsible for the establishment of many of the nation's most eminent libraries, concert halls, museums, and university and medical facilities; private bequests were also responsible for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes. Merit awards offered by industry and professional groups include the "Oscars" of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the "Emmys" of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the "Grammys" of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Funds for a variety of community health and welfare services are funneled through United Way campaigns, which raise funds annually. The American Red Cross has over 3,000 chapters, which pay for services and activities ranging from disaster relief to blood donor programs. Private organizations supported by contributions from the general public lead the fight against specific diseases.
The Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA, rural 4-H Clubs, and the Young Men's and the Young Women's Christian Associations are among the organizations devoted to recreation, sports, camping, and education.
The largest religious organization in the United States is the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, which embraces 32 Protestant and Orthodox denominations, whose adherents total more than 42 million. Many organizations, such as the American Philosophical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Geographic Society, are dedicated to the enlargement of various branches of human knowledge. National, state, and local historical societies abound, and there are numerous educational, sports, and hobbyist groups.
The larger veterans' organizations are the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Catholic War Veterans, and the Jewish War Veterans. Fraternal organizations, in addition to such international organizations as the Masons, include indigenous groups such as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Loyal Order of Moose, and the Woodmen of the World. Many, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, commemorate the national origin of their members. One of the largest fraternal organizations is the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus.