Although the concept of NGO, or non-governmental organization, has been known for over 70 years (it first appeared in the United Nations Charter, passed in 1945), it is impossible to provide a single definition that would encompass all the characteristics of those entities classified as the third sector – operating independently of the government, not for profit, and usually as part of a private initiative in order to bring about change in a chosen area. In fact, NGOs differ from each other and can be classified on the basis of several factors, for example, the level of operation and orientation. What are the different types of NGOs? Read our article and find out.

What are the different types of NGOs? – table of contents:

  1. Types of NGOs by level of operation
  2. Types of NGOs by orientation
  3. Other types of NGOs
  4. Summary

Types of NGOs by level of operation

When it comes to the level of operation, we can list four types of NGOs: CBOs (community-based organizations), city-wide, national and international. The first type usually includes various types of sports, women’s, neighborhood or religious organizations, which aim to act for the local community. Sometimes the activities of such organizations also aim to support the poorest and least educated.

Their members usually come from the local area, although there may also be entities that receive external assistance. Every year, city-wide NGOs engage in various activities related to the operation of a particular urban center. Examples of such NGOs include The Rotary or Lions Clubs.National NGOs deal with carrying out activities within a single country, although they may also have branches in other countries and cooperate with each other. Some of the most popular examples include the American Red Cross and the YMCA.

International organizations,in turn, are the largest ones in terms of scale of operations – they take steps related to improving the functioning of large groups around the world, both developing their own projects and financially supporting smaller entities. This group includes philanthropic foundations (e.g., by McDonald’s, Rockefeller, Gates and Ford), religious organizations with global reach (e.g. Lutheran World Relief), as well as several other globally recognized organizations: Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, AIESEC, Greenpeace or Save The Children.

types of NGOs

Types of NGOs by orientation

This division of NGOs refers to specific activities that they undertake. Here we can also list 4 types of NGOs:

  • charitable NGOs – aiming to help the poorest by, among others, organizing fundraisers to meet their basic needs, support treatment of illness or support them after natural disasters (such as a tsunami, hurricane or flood),
  • service-oriented NGOs – engaged in providing assistance in specific areas, such as medicine, education, housing, family planning. Their task is to provide support in obtaining needed resources, things or knowledge to people with limited accessibility,
  • participatory NGOs – involving the organization of self-help projects in which community members can choose to get involved in various ways, for example, by buying necessary products, donating money, etc.,
  • empowering NGOs – their goal is to provide members of the public with knowledge of important economic, social or political issues, in order to raise awareness of topics that affect everyone and show how to have an influence on current events.

Other types of NGOs

Sometimes NGOs are also divided into operational (implementing change) and advocacy (lobbying for change) ones. The following types are most often mentioned with regard to specific areas of activity:

  • BINGO (Business-friendly International NGO or Big International NGO)
  • INGO (International NGO)
  • ENGO (Environmental NGO)
  • RINGO (Religious International NGO)
  • CSO (Civil Society Organization)
  • GONGO (Government-organized NGO)

Types of NGOs – summary

It’s difficult to divide NGOs into rigid categories. New types of NGOs are constantly appearing, which is not surprising given the increasing number of organizations operating independently of the government. Moreover, individual NGOs can fall into more than one category at a time.


You’ve just read about various types of NGOs. Read also: What is an NGO company?

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Author: Andy Nichols

A problem solver with 5 different degrees and endless reserves of motivation. This makes him a perfect Business Owner & Manager. When searching for employees and partners, openness and curiosity of the world are qualities he values the most.