Why should an NGO be registered

What is an NGO?

NGO (= Non Governmental Organization) - the backbone of society

An NGO (Non Governmental Organization) is a civil society company that is primarily dedicated to idealistic goals. Profit maximization is not the top priority, as is the case with traditional companies. For this reason, NGOs are also referred to as nonprofit organizations (NPOs).

Most important feature: nonprofit

The most important characteristic of an NPO or NGO is that it is not allowed to distribute any profits or surpluses to its members or owners. (1) The income is only used to cover costs. Many organizations receive government grants if they take care of certain tasks in society, such as running a kindergarten or organizing care services. Nevertheless, the acquisition of financial resources is one of the main tasks of the employees in addition to the positioning in the public. (2)

Some organizations (motorist clubs, trade unions) are financed exclusively through membership fees. Well-known NGOs such as Greenpeace or Amnesty International can cover a large part of their costs with donations. Politically recognized institutions such as Jugend in Aktion or PROGESS receive funding from the EU or from the state.

Diverse legal forms: association, foundation, GmbH

NGOs can take on many different legal forms - from associations to foundations and cooperatives to non-profit limited companies. Your areas of activity extend to all sectors of society. For example, they can stand up for the interests of

  • Minorities (migrants, homeless, people with disabilities),
  • Individual groups of the population (senior citizens, children, young people) or
  • Your members (workers welfare, LGBTQ +, sports club).

Civil society organizations have been gaining in importance around the world for many years. They expose social grievances, take a stand and take care of marginalized groups that are exploited by those in power or overlooked by society.

Examples of NGOs' fields of action (a full list can be found in our NGO directory):

Political influence without official means of power

Many NGOs operate internationally and have enormous political influence, such as the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders - although they officially have no state power. (3)

In contrast to state institutions, these organizations have direct access to the people who usually trust them. In addition, NGOs do not have to pay attention to political calculation. In this way, they can offer help where the hands of state institutions are tied - for example in crisis areas.

The number of NGOs is constantly growing

The number of NGOs has been growing steadily for years. The German Federal Agency for Civic Education reports that the number of internationally networked NGOs was 8,976 in 2015. (4)

With the increasing importance of NGOs, the job market for their potential employees is also growing. However, there are currently no statistics on jobs. What is certain is that NGOs are constantly looking for new workers. In addition to positions in administration, social workers, humanities and natural scientists, as well as engineers and IT specialists are needed.

Meaningful work? NGOs are the solution

Are you looking for a job that gives your life meaning? How about an NGO? When applying, it is important to skilfully illuminate your altruistic attitude. We have put together a few tips here for the right way to apply to an NGO.

All over Europe there are numerous organizations whose roots go back many centuries - for example the Johanniter-Unfallhilfe, an organization of the Order of St. John. In general, one can say that the importance of NGOs in German-speaking countries follows the global trend: These organizations are becoming more and more important. Below you will find an overview of the situation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

NGOs in Germany

The first cooperatives emerged on German soil - born out of necessity in the truest sense of the word. Climate changes after volcanic eruptions and social injustices led to poverty and hunger among the population in large parts of Germany. In 1847 Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen and Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch formed organizations that developed into the first cooperative banks - the Volksbanken and the Raiffeisenbanken.

The revolutionary year of 1848 also spurred social attitudes. In the years that followed, the churches formed numerous aid organizations, some of which still exist today, such as the Catholic Caritas and the Protestant Diakonie.

Involved in policy making

Since then, the umbrella organizations in the nonprofit sector have been involved in policymaking at federal, state and local level. In 2013, the Bertelsmann Foundation published a study on German civil society. (6) Accordingly, the non-profit sector in Germany comprises over 600,000 organizations. 17.5 million citizens volunteer in clubs, associations and foundations.

However, there has not yet been a precise analysis of the NGO's labor market. The Bonn Science Shop, a non-profit organization, published an analysis of job postings in the NGO sector years ago. However, the association limited the term NGO to organizations for political, social and cultural purposes. According to this, NGOs advertised around 22,600 jobs between 2006 and 2011. (7)

However, that is only a fraction of the total number of employees in the nonprofit sector. In the Handbook of Nonprofit Organizations, the number of German employees is given as 2.3 million in 2007, 200,000 more than in 1995. (8) In addition to non-profit associations, the number of foundations recorded a particularly strong increase.

The following organizations are among the most important NGOs in Germany: (9)

  • German Red Cross
  • German Caritas Association
  • German Child Protection Association
  • German Cancer Aid
  • German Heart Foundation
  • Diaconal work
  • German AIDS Aid
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Action man
  • Action Germany helps

NGOs in Austria

The nonprofit sector is as diverse in Austria as it is in neighboring Germany. The first cooperative associations were founded here based on the German model. The first Volksbank was established as early as 1851. (10) A few years later, the Austrians organized themselves into numerous associations. 1862 is the year the Alpine Club was born. One year later the First Viennese Rowing Club LIA was founded, and in 1867 the Jockey Club.

In that year, the Habsburg monarchy established freedom of association at the same time as the Basic Law. (11) This led to the establishment of numerous associations. In addition, the religious aid organizations Caritas and Diakonie spread from Germany to Austria in the 19th century.

A special feature in Austria is that the interest groups of the professions are organized as associations and can therefore be viewed as NPOs. This is one of the main reasons for the - in international comparison - particularly large political influence of NGOs in Austria.

Intertwined with political parties

Many organizations operate at the state level and only work loosely together at the federal level. At the state level, the interaction with the political leadership and the promotion of NGOs has been working smoothly for a long time.

In 1997, important NGOs in Austria founded their own interest group, IGO, the voice of the non-profit. The reason was a massive increase in postal newspaper fees. (12) It would have severely impaired the public relations work of the organizations. Members of the IGO include numerous important aid organizations in Austria, for example SOS Children's Villages, Amnesty International, WWF, but also the Federal Association for People with Disabilities, the IG Kultur and the Society of Friends of the Fine Arts.

The worldwide growth of NGOs also affects Austria. In the past few decades, both the number of organizations and the number of employees have risen sharply. According to Statistics Austria and the Vienna University of Economics and Business, a total of 170,113 employees worked in the non-profit sector in 2003, most of them in health and care institutions as well as in old people's homes and emergency services. 74 percent of the employees were women. Almost 56 percent worked part-time. A projection by the Vienna University of Economics and Business gives the figure for 2010 as 212,000 employees. (13), (14)

The following organizations are among the most important NGOs in Austria:

  • Austrian red cross
  • Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Austria
  • Caritas Austria
  • Diakonie Austria
  • Lebenshilfe Austria
  • Austrian mountain rescue service
  • Volkshilfe Austria
  • Maltest Hospital Service Austria
  • Lebenshilfe Soziale Dienst GmbH
  • House of Mercy

NGOs in Switzerland

The nonprofit sector in Switzerland is characterized by direct democracy and pluralism. The first charitable institutions in the Confederation go back to the 14th century. The Inselspital in Bern, for example, was founded in 1354.

When the Helvetic Republic came into being around 1800, numerous social reforms came into force. The Swiss non-profit society, founded in 1810, was a driving force behind social innovations, for example in the formulation of social standards. (16) It also promoted the founding of numerous NPOs, which were primarily self-help organizations in mountainous regions that were difficult to access.

In the middle of the 19th century, the beginning of tourism led to the establishment of numerous associations. This is how the Swiss Alpine Association came into being in 1863. In the 20th century, the Swiss state developed a well-equipped welfare system that made many NGOs superfluous. As a result of direct democracy, numerous interest groups were formed, including trade unions and employers' associations.

Structural change in the 20th century

In the second half of the 20th century there was a structural change in the nonprofit sector in Switzerland. Churches as well as trade unions and parties lost many members. This led to the merger of numerous organizations in the field of sport, but also business associations, trade unions and civil society organizations that pursue the same goals.

Numerous foundations were created at the same time. In an international comparison, Switzerland takes a top position with a good 13,000 foundations. (17) The density of foundations is highest in the canton of Basel-Stadt, where there are 45 foundations for every 10,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, the association remains the most important legal form in the NPO area.

A study was published in 2010 that gives an overview of the so-called third sector in Switzerland. (18) It was created as part of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project. According to this, 180,500 full-time employees worked in the Swiss non-profit sector in 2005. In addition, there are voluntary working hours, which correspond to 79,800 full-time positions. Most of the employees work in social services. Volunteers, on the other hand, are more involved in culture, sport and social services. Most of the NPOs in Switzerland are active in the health and social sector.

The following organizations are among the most important NGOs in Switzerland:

  • Swiss Red Cross
  • Caritas Switzerland
  • Aid Organization of the Evangelical Churches (HEKS)
  • Swiss Samaritan Association
  • Swiss Cancer League
  • Solidar Suisse
  • Swiss mountain aid
  • Center Europe - Animals Moons
  • Corporate responsibility initiative
  • Multiwatch

Further information

This article is continuously updated. Last changes on 05/14/2021.


(1) https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectID=09000016805d534d

(2) http://www.nordlicht-consultants.com/sites/default/files/discussions/nordlicht_ngo_branchenreport.pdf

(3) https://www.bmz.de/de/ministerium/wege/bilaterale_ez/akteure_ez/nros/index.html

(4) https://www.bpb.de/nachhaben/zahlen-und-ffekten/globalisierung/52808/ngos

(5) https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/unsere-projekte/zivilgesellschaft-in-zahlen/projektbeschreibung

(6) https://www.geog.uni-heidelberg.de/md/chemgeo/geog/links_artikel_jobs_in_ngos_uws_2011_47.pdf

(7) https://books.google.at/books?id=tSTRDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=handbook+der+nonprofit+organisation&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiPsI-zn7XpAhXHwMQBHQscDepageofc&q6AEILTAB20#n=onepageofcQ6AEILTAB20=n=onorganization%%%20%AEILTAB

(8) https://www.deutschland.de/de/topic/politik/frieden-sicherheit/hilfseinrichtungen

(9) https://orf.at/v2/stories/2100253/2102508/

(10) Meyer, Michael & Neumayr, Michaela & Schneider, Ulrike. (2010). Bits and Pieces: Data on the Austrian Nonprofit Sector. VM trade journal for association and nonprofit management. VM trade journal for association and nonprofit management. 36. 34-37. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234111114_Bits_und_Pieces_Daten_zum_osterreichischen_Nonprofit-Sektor_VM_Fachzeitschrift_fur_Verbands-_und_Nonprofit-Management)

(11) https://science.orf.at/v2/stories/2885141/

(12) http://www.statistik.at/web_de/statistiken/wirtschaft/volkswirtschaftliche_habenrechUNGEN/032784.html

(13) https://gemeinnuetzig.at/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/OesterreichischerNPOSektor.pdf

(14) https://www.vergissmeinnicht.at/einrichtungen

(16) https://ceps.unibas.ch/de/ceps-news/news/stiftungsreport-2019-neuste-zahlen-zum-schweizer-stiftungssektor/

(17) https://vmiallink-live-13da3867fbf64dfd99d0faa9-140386b.divio-media.org/filer_public/30/53/30538e82-5e81-4b8e-9aec-a3ef52cd625a/der_dritte_sektor_der_schweiz.pdf

(18) http://www.swiss-npocode.ch/cms/en/swiss-npo-codepruefung/zertIERT-einrichtungen.html