Non-governmental organizations (also known as NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, or nongovernment organizations) are organizations independent of any government. They are usually non-profit, and many NGOs are active in humanitarian or social areas; however, NGOs can also be lobby groups for corporations, such as the World Economic Forum. NGOs are a subgroup of all organizations founded by citizens, which include clubs and other associations that provide services, benefits, and premises only to members. Sometimes the term is used as a synonym of "civil society organization" to refer to any association founded by citizens, but this is not how the term is normally used in the media or everyday language, as recorded by major dictionaries. The explanation of the term by NGO.org (the non-governmental organizations associated with the United Nations) is ambivalent: "[an NGO is] any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level," but then goes on to restrict the meaning in the sense used by most English speakers and the media: "Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information."
NGOs are usually funded by donations, but some avoid formal funding altogether and are run primarily by volunteers. NGOs are highly diverse groups of organizations engaged in a wide range of activities, and take different forms in different parts of the world. Some may have charitable status, while others may be registered for tax exemption based on recognition of social purposes. Others may be fronts for political, religious, or other interests. Since the end of World War II, NGOs have had an increasing role in international development, particularly in the fields of humanitarian assistance and poverty alleviation.
Russia had about 277,000 NGOs in 2008. India is estimated to have had around 2 million NGOs in 2009, just over one NGO per 600 Indians, and many times the number of primary schools and primary health centres in India.
The term "NGO" is not always used consistently. In some countries the term NGO is applied to an organization that in another country would be called an NPO (a non-profit organization), and vice versa. Political parties and trade unions are considered NGOs only in some countries. There are many different classifications of NGOs in use. The most common focus is on "orientation" and "level of operation". An NGO's orientation refers to the type of activities it takes on. These activities might include human rights, environmental, improving health, or development work. An NGO's level of operation indicates the scale at which an organization works, such as local, regional, national, or international.
The term "non-governmental organization" was first coined in 1945, when the United Nations (UN) was created. The UN, itself an intergovernmental organization, made it possible for certain approved specialized international non-state agencies — i.e., non-governmental organizations — to be awarded observer status at its assemblies and some of its meetings. Later the term became used more widely. Today, according to the UN, any kind of private organization that is independent of government control can be termed an "NGO", provided it is not-for-profit, non-prevention, but not simply an opposition political party.
Public surveys reveal that NGOs often enjoy a high degree of public trust, which can make them a useful – but not always sufficient – proxy for the concerns of society and stakeholders.
NGO/GRO (governmental-related organizations) types can be understood by their orientation and level of how they operate.
- Charitable orientation often involves a top-down effort with little participation or input by beneficiaries. It includes NGOs with activities directed toward meeting the needs of the disadvantaged people groups.
- Service orientation includes NGOs with activities such as the provision of health, family planning or education services in which the programme is designed by the NGO and people are expected to participate in its implementation and in receiving the service.
- Participatory orientation is characterized by self-help projects where local people are involved particularly in the implementation of a project by contributing cash, tools, land, materials, labour, etc. In the classical community development project, participation begins with the need definition and continues into the planning and implementation stages.
- Empowering orientation aims to help poor people develop a clearer understanding of the social, political and economic factors affecting their lives, and to strengthen their awareness of their own potential power to control their lives. There is maximum involvement of the beneficiaries with NGOs acting as facilitators.
By level of operation
- Community-based organizations (CBOs) arise out of people's own initiatives. They can be responsible for raising the consciousness of the urban poor, helping them to understand their rights in accessing needed services and providing such services.
- City-wide organizations include organizations such as chambers of commerce and industry, coalitions of business, ethnic or educational groups, and associations of community organizations.
- State NGOs include state-level organizations, associations and groups. Some state NGOs also work under the guidance of National and International NGOs.
- National NGOs include national organizations such as the YMCAs/YWCAs, professional associations and similar groups. Some have state and city branches and assist local NGOs.
- International NGOs range from secular agencies such as Save the Children, to religiously motivated groups. They can be responsible for funding local NGOs, institutions and projects and implementing projects.
Apart from "NGO", there are alternative or overlapping terms in use, including: third-sector organization (TSO), non-profit organization (NPO), voluntary organization (VO), civil society organization (CSO), grassroots organization (GO), social movement organization (SMO), private voluntary organization (PVO), self-help organization (SHO) and non-state actors (NSAs).
In Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and other Romance languages, the 'mirrored' abbreviation "ONG" is in use, which has the same meaning as "NGO" (for example Organisation non-gouvernementale in French, Organização Não Governmental in Portuguese, Organización no gubernamental in Spanish, or Organizzazione non governativa in Italian).
Governmental-related organizations / non-governmental organizations are a heterogeneous group. As a result, a long list of additional acronyms has developed, including:
- BINGO: 'Business-friendly international NGO' or 'Big international NGO'
- SBO: 'Social Benefit Organization,' a positive, goal-oriented designation as a substitute for the negative, "Non-" designations
- TANGO: 'Technical assistance NGO'
- TSO: 'third-sector organization'
- GONGO: 'government-organized non-governmental organization' or 'government-operated NGOs' (set up by governments to look like NGOs in order to qualify for outside aid or promote the interests of government)
- DONGO: 'Donor-organized NGO'
- INGO: 'International NGO'
- QUANGO: 'quasi-autonomous NGO,' or QUANGO refers to NGOs set up and funded by the government. The term is particularly prevalent within the UK (where there are more than 1,200 of them), the Republic of Ireland, and the Commonwealth.
- National NGO: A non-governmental organization that exists only in one country. This term is rare due to the globalization of non-governmental organizations, which causes an NGO to exist in more than one country.
- CSO: 'Civil Society Organization'
- ENGO: 'Environmental NGO,' such as Greenpeace and WWF
- NNGO: 'Northern NGO'
- PANGO: 'Party NGO,' set up by parties and disguised as NGOs to serve their political matters.
- SNGO: 'Southern NGO'
- SCO: 'Social change organization'
- TNGO: 'Transnational NGO.' The term emerged during the 1970s due to the increase of environmental and economic issues in the global community. TNGO includes non-governmental organizations that are not confined to only one country but exist in two or more countries.
- GSO: Grassroots Support Organization
- MANGO: 'Market advocacy NGO'
- NGDO: 'Non-governmental development organization'
- PVDO: 'Private voluntary development organisation'
USAID refers to NGOs as private voluntary organizations. However, many scholars have argued that this definition is highly problematic as many NGOs are in fact state- or corporate-funded and -managed projects and have professional staff.
GRO/NGOs exist for a variety of reasons, usually to further the political or social goals of their members or founders. Examples include improving the state of the natural environment, encouraging the observance of human rights, improving the welfare of the disadvantaged, or representing a corporate agenda. However, there are a huge number of such organizations and their goals cover a broad range of political and philosophical positions. This can also easily be applied to private schools and athletic organizations.
Track II diplomacy
Track II dialogue, or Track II diplomacy, is transnational coordination that involves non-official members of the government including as well as former policy-makers or analysts. Track II diplomacy aims to get policymakers and policy analysts to come to a common solution through discussions by unofficial means. Unlike the Track, I diplomacy where government officials, diplomats, and elected leaders gather to talk about certain issues, Track II diplomacy consists of experts, scientists, professors and other figures that are not involved in government affairs. The members of Track II diplomacy usually have more freedom to exchange ideas and come up with compromises on their own.