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Non-governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, or nongovernment organizations, commonly referred to as NGOs, are usually non-profit and sometimes international organizations independent of governments and international governmental organizations (though often funded by governments) that are active in humanitarian, educational, health care, public policy, social, human rights, environmental, and other areas to affect changes according to their objectives. They are thus 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. It first says 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.
The number of NGOs worldwide is estimated to be 10 million. 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. China is estimated to have approximately 440,000 officially registered NGOs. About 1.5 million domestic and foreign NGOs operated in the United States in 2017.
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 (non-profit organization), and vice versa. Political parties and trade unions are considered NGOs only in some countries. There are many different classifications of NGO 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 from government control can be termed an “NGO”, provided it is not-for-profit, non-prevention,[clarification needed] but not simply an opposition political party.
One characteristic these diverse organizations share is that their non-profit status means they are not hindered by short-term financial objectives. Accordingly, they are able to devote themselves to issues which occur across longer time horizons, such as climate change, malaria prevention, or a global ban on landmines. 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.