Don't call us NGOs

A discussion around the use of the term "NGO" has emerged from the launch of the .ngo domain for nonprofit organisations by the Public Interest Registry, the US-based organisation officially responsible for operating, maintaining and cataloging all .org domain names.

Don't call us NGOs

In an article last year, Inyathelo Director, Shelagh Gastrow, called for a move away from calling civil society organisations “charities” (Please don't call us "charities," Inyathelo Blogspot).

"We prefer to use the term “civil society organisations” that promote the concept of citizen action or “non-profit organisations”, the term used in our legislation to describe those entities referred to as “charities” in the UK and elsewhere.” However, the term “NGO” or “non-governmental organisation” may be just as inappropriate.

Should international naming conventions, or lack thereof, dictate nomenclature to South African civil society? According to Shelagh Gastrow, the concept ‘NGO’ relates to separating some of the big, global entities that are involved in aid work across the developing world from foreign government aid. The word was subsequently used to describe formalised organisations that are active in the civil society space. However, it is a word that is imposed on us and we have struggled to move away from being identified with these big bureaucratic entities towards organisations that are involved in civic activity or citizen action. Hence, we prefer being called civil society organisations or CSOs.

Now that there is a domain for NGOs, we are automatically being put in a box by interests based in Washington. The company claims that it has consulted widely and that the NGO term is accepted globally, but it is already an old term and takes us back into the world of aid rather than action.

In a response to an Inyathelo Blogspot post on the new .ngo domain (The new .ngo domain — is it worth the cost for SA NGOs?), Louise van Rhyn tweeted: "Is NGO not a horribly outdated term? Why not NPO or SE (Social Enterprise)?” Bruce Gordon added: "I work for a government NPO. I like Social Enterprise. NGO explains what you're not rather than what you are”.

Apart from the hefty domain registration fee, it would seem that when choosing whether or not to opt for the new .ngo domain, the very appropriateness of the term NGO is an important consideration for South African organisations.