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A non-governmental organization (NGO) is

a legally constituted, non-governmental organization created by natural or legal persons with no participation or representation of any government.[1]
[a]n entity with an association that is based on interests of its members, individuals or institutions. It is not created by a government, but it may work cooperatively with government. Such organizations serve a public purpose, not a private benefit.[2]
[a] private, self-governing, not-for-profit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering; and/or promoting education, health care, economic development, environmental protection, human rights, and conflict resolution; and/or encouraging the establishment of democratic institutions and civil society.[3]


The rise of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) is a symptom of changing political attitudes. The declining legitimacy of formal governments propels private groups to assume functions or provide services where they believe government action is inadequate. NGOs are self-appointed governance bodies whose legitimacy derives from adherence to an ideal or by representing some community that is underrepresented in formal political processes. They are alternate governance structures whose complex relationship with national governments — sometimes competitive, sometimes supportive — reflects the belief that formal government institutions are inadequate.[4]

In the cases in which NGOs are funded totally or partially by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status and excludes government representatives from membership in the organization.

Unlike the term intergovernmental organization, "non-governmental organization" is a term in general use but is not a legal definition. In many jurisdictions these types of organization are defined as "civil society organizations" or referred to by other names.


  1. Department of Defense, DoD Directive (DoDD) 3020.40, Glossary, at 19 (Jan. 14, 2010) (full-text).
  2. FEMA Glossary (full-text).
  3. Office of Counterintelligence (DXC), Defense CI & HUMINT Center, Defense Intelligence Agency, "Terms and Definitions of Interest for DoD Counterintelligence Professional," at GL-129 (May 2, 2011) (full-text).
  4. The Significance of the Frontier: Why Privacy and Cybersecurity Clash, at 4.