Charitable Organisation is the most traditional way of describing organisations doing good. The name stems from the religious duty to do charitable work. Tax offices in many countries use the name to describe organisations they are prepared to exempt from paying taxes. Many of the sector’s organisations don’t like to be called a charity or charitable organisation because they feel that this is derogative of the people they try to support. All people have human rights which the world community has to respect and it is not an act of charity, but a universal obligation, to support people suffering from poverty, exploitation and oppression.

Civil Society Organisation (CSO) refers to the fact that the organisations are part of civil society. A pragmatic, simple and clear definition is the one used by the UN Global Compact: “Civil society organizations (CSOs) are non-governmental and non-profit entities that seek to bring about positive social and environmental change. These include advocacy groups as well as organizations operating at the field level. Civil society organizations can be ‘multi-national’ and international in nature, or small grass-roots groups.”70

International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) describes civil society organisations that conduct fundraising and programme activities in a number of different countries. We focus specifically on the small group of a few dozen organisations which are well-known and influential at the international level. Often these are

  • large in terms of reach, some being active in over 100 countries;
  • large in terms of finance, some raising and spending several billion US$ per year;
  • large in terms of staff, some employing several tens of thousands of salaried staff;
  • large in terms of brand recognition, some owning prestigious global brands such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

In this book we use ‘CSO’ when referring to the sector as a whole and ‘ICSO’ when specifically referring to the international organisations.

Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) is a name which tells you what this sector is not. It is indeed not governmental, even though it has always assumed tasks which the government did not – or not sufficiently – do. This takes us straight into the discussion of what governments’ tasks should be and what they should leave to others. For example, I see basic education and healthcare as government tasks; but many governments either cannot or do not want to provide these services at an appropriate level. They leave the field, at least partly, to NGOs and, as a result, many non-governmental organisations predominantly do the governments’ work. NGOs that are working in more than one country are often called ‘INGOs’. We do not use this term – except in quotes – because we consider it derogative, merely stating what we are not, rather than describing what we are.

Not-For-Profit Organisation (NPO) refers to the fact that these organisations do not generate a profit for their owners. The term is often rejected because – just like the term NGO – it describes what the sector is not and thus is seen as a negative description. In fact, some of the great strengths and some of the most notable weaknesses of the sector result from the fact that it does not strive for profit.

Third Sector Organisation is a description scientists like – and many people do not understand. It refers to the division of our societies into three sectors: 1) government, 2) business and 3) everything else. Again, ‘everything else’ is not a very comfortable place to be and therefore this name is not very popular.