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Categorizing NGOs

World Bank criteria:

NGO World Bank Collaboration

Size and Influence of the NGO Sector

NGOs have become major players in the field of international development. Since the mid-1970s, the NGO sector in both developed and developing countries has experienced exponential growth. From 1970 to 1985 total development aid disbursed by international NGOs increased ten-fold. In 1992 international NGOs channeled over $7.6 billion of aid to developing countries. It is now estimated that over 15 percent of total overseas development aid is channeled through NGOs.


The World Bank defines NGOs as "private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development" (Operational Directive 14.70). In wider usage, the term NGO can be applied to any non-profit organization which is independent from government. NGOs are typically value-based organizations which depend, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service. Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professionalized over the last two decades, principles of altruism and voluntarism remain key defining characteristics.

Categories of NGOs

The term NGO is very broad and encompasses many different types of organizations. In the field of development, NGOs range from large, Northern-based charities such as CARE, Oxfam and World Vision to community-based self-help groups in the South. They also include research institutes, churches, professional associations and lobby groups The World Bank tends to interact with two main categories of NGOs: i) operational NGOs - whose primary purpose is the design and implementation of development-related projects, and; ii) advocacy NGOs - whose primary purpose is to defend or promote a specific cause and who seek to influence the policies and practices of the Bank. It should be noted, however, that these two categories are not mutually exclusive. A growing number of NGOs engage in both operational and advocacy activities, and some advocacy groups, while not directly involved in designing and implementing projects, focus on specific project-related concerns.

Operational NGOs

The World Bank classifies operational NGOs into three main groups: i) community-based organizations (CBOs) - which serve a specific population in a narrow geographic area; ii) national organizations - which operate in individual developing countries, and; iii) international organizations - which are typically headquartered in developed countries and carry out operations in more than one developing country. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, most examples of World Bank-NGO collaboration involved international NGOs. In recent years, however, this trend has been reversed. Among projects involving NGO collaboration recorded in FY94, 40% involved CBOs, 70% involved national organizations and 10% involved international organizations.

CBOs (also referred to as grassroots organizations or peoples' organizations) are distinct in nature and purpose from other NGOs. While national and international organizations are "intermediary" NGOs which are formed to serve others; CBOs are normally "membership" organizations made up of a group of individuals who have joined together to further their own interests (e.g.: women's groups, credit circles, youth clubs, cooperatives and farmer associations). In the context of Bank-financed activities, national or international NGOs are normally contracted to deliver services, design projects or conduct research. CBOs are more likely to be the recipients of project goods and services. In projects which promote participatory development, grassroots organizations play the key function of providing an institutional framework for beneficiary participation. CBOs might, for example: be consulted during design to ensure that project goals reflect beneficiary interests; undertake the implementation of community-level project components; or receive funds to design and implement sub-projects. Many national and international NGOs work in partnership with CBOs - either channeling development resources to them or providing them with services or technical assistance. Such NGOs can play a particularly important role as "intermediaries" between CBOs and institutions such as the World Bank or government.

NGO Typologies

Individual operational NGOs vary enormously according to their purpose, philosophy, sectoral expertise and scope of activities. A number of different NGO typologies exist. For example, NGOs have been classified according to whether they are more relief or development-oriented; whether they are religious or secular; whether they stress service delivery or participation and whether they are more public or private-oriented.

NGO Strengths and Weaknesses

Because the nature and quality of individual NGOs varies greatly, it is extremely difficult to make generalizations about the sector as a whole. Despite this diversity, some specific strengths generally associated with the NGO sector include the following:

    • strong grassroots links
    • field-based development expertise
    • ability to innovate and adapt
    • process-oriented approach to development
    • participatory methodologies and tools
    • long-term commitment and emphasis on sustainability
    • cost-effectiveness
The most commonly identified weaknesses of the sector include:
    • limited financial and management expertise
    • limited institutional capacity
    • low levels of self-sustainability
    • isolation/lack of inter-organizational communication and/or coordination
    • small scale interventions
    • lack of understanding of the broader social or economic context
Source: World Bank website "Nongovernmental Organizations and Civil Society/Overview."