A non-governmental organization (NGO) can be structured according to various schemes, or plans, that determine how it operates. These schemes decide who the organization will serve, what its core services will be, where it will operate and how it will deliver its programs. If an NGO were a for-profit entity, this type of decision-making would result in a business plan. As a nonprofit, an NGO uses these decisions as the basis for its strategic plan and the justification for its existence as a charitable entity.
One of the principal distinctions in NGO schemes determines who the organization will serve. A nonprofit can choose to operate as a membership organization and serve only those people who join. This type of organization designs programs to promote the best interests of its membership, and functions by membership vote. Alternatively, an NGO can choose to serve the public at-large. In this instance, the organization operates as a public trust, overseen by a board of directors that has a fiduciary duty to make decisions that further the nonprofit's mission.
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Another difference in NGO schemes concerns its core services. At the time a nonprofit is organized, it states a mission that will define the types of activities the organization will generally be authorized to engage in going forward. NGOs are categorized based on this mission statement. The different types of core service schemes include human services, environmental issues and economic development.
An NGO also plans how it will operate by devising a scheme to address the scope of its services. The different types of NGO schemes in this category include a local or community-based scope, a national scope or an international scope. Local and national schemes are further impacted by the choice of where to incorporate the entity, which will control the way the organization conducts the rest of its business. Within the international choice is the decision to incorporate in the country of operation or to incorporate in one country but only provide services in another. Sometimes, international NGOs will do the latter to ensure an adequate home base for fundraising, while pursuing a mission within a foreign country.
A final component of basic NGO schemes include a decision concerning program philosophy. Nonprofits have to decide on a theory of change, or the way their special combination of services will make a difference. There are many different types of theories that can drive an NGO's mission. One of the most popular is transformational development, where nonprofits equip community leaders with the knowledge and resources to manage change themselves. Another is economic community development, where program resources are directed toward key economic indicators to drive social improvement.