Simplified, NGOs are trying (or supposed to be trying) to do things they believe are good. Much of the work is development-based, going into specific genres like rescuing street dogs or providing vaccinations to a Ugandan village. On the other hand, NGOs can be much less hands-on, and some are devoted to lobbying politicians or raising money to delegate to causes they find worthy. This site focuses particularly on NGOs that provide education, medical aid, development services, environmental protection, and human rights advocacy. Whatever the case, the intention of a good NGO is to foster goodness in the world.
Unfortunately, this hasn't always been the end result. As with anything, when large amounts of money are being dealt out, corruption and malice manage to work into the mix. For example, Philip Morris (the cigarette conglomerate) is one of the largest business donors in the world, yet many believe the intention is to create a clean reputation for a company distributing poisonous products. Likewise, there has been huge concern lately with orphanages that are touted as great volunteering experience, helping children who really need it, but turn out to be more like slumlord business for the people running them. It's a sad consequence but one to be aware of: Not every company supplying large chunks of money is well-meaning and not every organization is doing what it says it is.
Like most things, though, 90% of people are out there to do good, and usually it's easy enough to spot the ones who are. For the purposes of this site, we try to promote NGOs we've either had first-hand experiences with or done a great deal of research about. We've done my best to introduce readers to places that will provide a fulfilling experience for them, as well as could honestly use a hand or two getting the job done.
For the most part, where an NGO's money comes from has a lot to do with the size of the NGO. For example, massive organization like Green Peace need millions of dollars a year to operate, and those funds come from many sources: membership fees, interested businesses, philanthropic foundations, government grants, and so on. However, the smaller the NGO, generally the more reliant it is on a big collection of small donations, as opposed to a small number of huge donations.
A small NGO may operate on a few thousand dollars a year. This money is likely to come from friends and family of the people involved with the NGO. This is where grassroots volunteering can be very significant to the smaller NGOs like the ones promoted on this site: By promoting your experience, encouraging your friends and family to donate a few bucks here or there, you will likely help to fund a relevant portion of a small NGOs funding.
So, volunteering for a small NGO can be much more than helping to build a playground or gathering turtle eggs. It may just help to keep the program rolling in the years to come.
Well, first of all, NGO is short for non-governmental organization, and basically what this entails is an organization formed by citizens, rather than the government, to perform some sort of social service: helping with education, supplying food and nutritional needs, providing medical assistance, saving environmental elements, building homes or schools, creating after-school programs, and many other imaginative and well-meaning activities. NGOs exist throughout the world, from Manhattan to Timbuktu (literally), and offer great opportunities to help others, animals, trees, or whatever you like.
Many NGOs are founded in wealthier western countries and rooted in impoverished countries, and others are founded within their host countries. NGOs can be massive with branches and pie-crusted fingers all over the world, such as Oxfam or Green Peace, or they can be tiny operations with literally a couple of teachers out in the jungle providing English classes to kids from a remote Mayan village. In other words, there are several incarnations of the standard NGO, such as BINGOs (big international NGOs) like the Red Cross, RINGOs (religious international NGOs), and even the paradoxical GONGOs (government-operated non-governmental organizations?).
Whatever the case, for the purposes of this site, I will be presenting smaller NGOs, localized in their focus and generally located in more backpacker-y spots like Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. The idea behind this is that these NGOs in general have less publicity than the big boys, receive less support via volunteer and funding, and usually offer volunteer opportunities with much less bureaucracy to wade through. Small and grassroots NGOs can usually gain some true benefits from international volunteers willing to devote part of their travels to pitching in on something good.