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close this bookNGO Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice (Commonwealth Foundation)
close this folderPart I: NGOs: what they are and what they do
close this folder4. NGO activities described
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 The spectrum of NGO activities
View the document4.2 Who and what
View the document4.3 How
View the document4.4 The diversity of NGO activities

4.1 The spectrum of NGO activities

The two historical roots of NGOs described in Chapter 2 find expression in the two principal ways in which NGOs endeavour to achieve their aims: through care and welfare activities; and through activities orientated towards promoting change and development.

These two functions are not mutually exclusive and thus do not create two recognisable types of NGO. Many NGOs are involved in both, for now, as in the past, the two are connected: indeed, many NGOs describe themselves as multi-functional.

The table below shows the diversity of modern NGO activities.

These activities are best seen as forming a spectrum ranging from those which are principally orientated to care and welfare, at the one extreme, to, at the other, those which are mainly about change and development. Five activities can be distinguished on this spectrum, but again it is important to stress that they are not mutually exclusive: an NGO may be involved in any or all of them.

Care and welfare

Service and delivery

NGOs may themselves define the services to be provided, or do so in consultation with beneficiary groups, or provide the services for government or funding agencies which define the services.

Mobilising resources

NGOs mobilise resources at an individual or collective level and the resources mobilised may be human, financial and/or physical. These include production activities to generate resources.

Research and innovation

These are activities which aim to gain a better understanding of, and/or create or test new ways of responding to, needs and problems affecting society in general or individuals and groups within it.

Human resource development

Often described as empowerment, these activities often focus on building the human capacity and skills of disadvantaged people or communities. Various methods are used to create consciousness and awareness and to enable people to participate in identifying needs, in taking action to address them, and in owning the process of development.

Public information, education and advocacy

These activities often build upon research activities. Mobilising public awareness, campaigning and advocating change or reform are important activities of many NGOs.

Change and development