A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a non-profit, citizen-based group that functions independently of government. NGOs are organized on local, national and international levels to serve specific social or political purposes. Despite their independence from government, many NGOs receive significant funding from government entities.

Key Takeaways

  • A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a non-profit, citizen-based group that functions independently of government.
  • NGOs are organized on local, national and international levels to serve specific social or political purposes.
  • Despite their independence from government, many NGOs receive funding from local, state, and federal governments through grants.

Understanding NGOs and Government Funding

While an NGO can be funded entirely or in part by government funding, it may keep its non-governmental status by prohibiting government representatives from membership. In the United States, about 1.5 million NGOs are in operation, representing a wide variety of causes. Some NGOs focus on developmental projects, such as clean water while others promote awareness of specific causes, such as gender equality.

Many NGOs receive funding from local, state, and federal government entities through grants. A grant is a financial award given to an organization with a specific purpose. Grants help provide funding for medical research, economic development, educational advances, and various projects that provide public services. Grants are essentially gifts that do not need to be repaid.

Other forms of funding for NGOs include:

  • Annual membership dues or fees
  • Donations from individuals
  • Donations from charitable foundations, which are funded either by public donations or private donors, such as a corporation, an individual, or family
  • Revenue or income from the sale of goods and services

Special Considerations

Government funding of NGOs is sometimes viewed as controversial, because the funding may support certain political goals rather than a nation's development goals. As such, certain NGOs will not accept funding from the government or any intergovernmental association.

For example, the environmental NGO Greenpeace does not take any funding from government, corporations or political parties. Greenpeace has this policy in order to maintain "absolute independence."

Examples of NGOs and Government Funding

Examples of NGOs that currently receive government funding, or that have received government funding in the past, include:

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders is an NGO that provides medical assistance and access to medicines to those in need throughout the globe, which includes fighting malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and many other medical issues.

The vast majority of the revenue is raised through donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The organization receives some government funding internationally but limits that funding to less than 20% of the total amount of funds raised. Doctors Without Borders has not received any funding from the U.S. government since 2002.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is an organization that helps people age fifty and older by providing education and information. Some of the issues that AARP focuses on include financial education, caregiving for seniors, and fraud protection.

AARP receives some grant funding from the federal government through the AARP Foundation, which helps to fight poverty for senior citizens. Otherwise, the organization receives the vast majority of its funding through membership dues, donations, and advertising revenue from its publications. AARP also earns royalty income by allowing third-party firms, such as financial institutions to use the AARP brand name.

World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund's mission is to conserve nature and promote the diversity of life on Earth. The issues being addressed include creating renewable energy, creating sustainable food systems for people, conservation of forests, and ensuring that there's an adequate amount of fresh water. In 2019, 39% of the WWF's funding came from individuals, 8% from foundations, 4% from corporations, while only 11% came from government grants.