NGOs are social and political organizations that work independently from governments. Most NGOs are nonprofits, but not all nonprofits are NGOs. While it’s difficult to count how many NGOs exist today, 2021 data from The U.S. Department of State estimates there are 1.5 million NGOs working in the US alone. Which ones are the biggest? This article describes 15 influential NGOs located in places like the United States, Europe, and South Asia.
Established in: 1919
Global presence: 120 countries
Based in London, this international NGO works to improve the lives of children through healthcare, education, emergency aid, economic development, and more. As a global movement, the NGO has 30 national member organizations around the world. Areas of focus include hunger, health, education, policy and advocacy, the climate crisis, and the war in Ukraine.
In 2021, Save the Children and its member organizations reached almost 43 million kids and responded to 103 humanitarian emergencies. Their combined revenue was around USD 2.2 billion.
Established in: 1942
Global presence: 90+ countries
Oxfam is an anti-poverty organization that focuses on water and sanitation, gender justice, conflicts and disasters, and much more. Since 2015, the NGO has reached over 3 million people in Yemen with services like clean water, sanitation, hygiene, and cash for food. In Syria, where millions have been forcibly displaced since 2011, Oxfam works in eight of the 14 governorates focusing on clean water, hygiene kits, farmers, and more. Oxfam also has charity shops around the world (most are in the UK) that sell donated and fair-trade items.
According to the 2020-2021 annual report, Oxfam reached over 14 million people with their COVID-19 response; worked with 1.7 million people on gender justice; and made USD 912 million in total income.
Established in: 1971
Global presence: 70+ countries
Based in France (where it’s known as Médecins Sans Frontières), Doctors Without Borders is a medical NGO working in conflict zones, areas affected by natural disasters, and areas with endemic diseases. Their focuses include antibiotic resistance, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, vaccinations, mental health, and more. They use 14% of their income on fundraising, 85% on programs, and 1% on management and general admin.
In 2021, the NGO performed over 12.5 million medical consultations; gave 1.6 million vaccinations; and saw over 1 million patients in MSF hospitals and clinics. After adjustments, MSF had a surplus of €169 million. MSF gets most of its funding from private income, which includes individuals and private foundations.
Established in: 1972
Global presence: 11 countries
BRAC is an international development NGO based in Bangladesh. Because of how many employees it has, it’s the largest NGO in the world. It works in every district in Bangladesh as well as in countries like Kenya, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. It focuses on social development like microfinance, disaster risk management, education, gender justice, and water and sanitation. BRAC also has several social enterprises, which are self-sustaining, cause-driven businesses. These help the NGO fund itself.
According to its 2021 annual report, almost 2 in 5 people in Bangladesh received support from BRAC. 11.5 million accessed financial services and awareness; USD 4.5 billion in loans were disbursed; and 190,000 kids got access to education. The NGO also had over 4 billion Taka in total assets.
#5. World Vision
Established in: 1950
Global presence: 100+ countries
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian NGO focused on issues like poverty, education, child protection, disaster relief, economic empowerment, and clean water. Children are the NGO’s top priority. In 2022, World Vision helped 3.2 million kids through child sponsorship; assisted 31.1 million refugees and disaster survivors; and gave 3 million people clean water access. World Vision has around USD 1 billion in operating revenue. It spends 90% of its revenue on programs, 6% on fundraising, and 4% on management and general administration.
Note: World Vision’s moral guidelines for employees have caused controversy. In 2014, the NGO announced it would begin hiring employees in same-sex marriages, but World Vision quickly reversed course after losing sponsors. At the time of writing, it appears the NGO is maintaining its discriminatory policy.
Established in: 1933
Global presence: 40+ countries
The International Rescue Committee, which was originally founded in response to people fleeing Nazi Germany, helps refugees affected by humanitarian crises like disasters and conflict. Areas of focus include safety, health, economic well-being, empowerment, and education. As women and girls are among the most vulnerable, the NGO pays special attention to their needs. The IRC works in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States.
In 2021, the NGO reached 31.5 million people, resettled people from 32 countries in the United States, and reached over 1 million people with malnutrition prevention services. Total revenue in 2021 was USD 979,512 while net assets were USD 245,790.
Established in: 1943
Global presence: 100+ countries
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is an international humanitarian NGO and a member of Caritas International, which is a global network of Catholic humanitarian agencies. Originally founded to aid European refugees in WWII, the NGO expanded its work to emergency relief, long-term development, and human rights protection.
In 2021, CRS reached 193 million people in 116 countries. That includes providing over USD 75 million in cash and vouchers for displaced people in Gaza; restoring 503,096 acres of land in Central America; and helping 221,396 children and adolescents with HIV get treatment. CRS’ total operating revenue was USD 1,191,928 in 2021. 93.5% is spent on program services with 6.5 spent on support services like fundraising and general administration.
Established in: 1956
Global presence: 40+ countries
The Danish Refugee Council was formed after WWII in response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Today, it’s the largest NGO in Denmark. It works in every stage of displacement, provides humanitarian aid and protection, and works with civil society and authorities to promote refugee rights. The Danish Refugee Council is an umbrella nonprofit with 33 member organizations, so it has a presence in over 40 countries including countries in Europe, Asia, and West and North Africa.
In 2021, the NGO’s Executive Committee approved the new global DRC Strategy 2025, which lays out the organization’s strategy for the next few years. As forced displacement increases, the DRC has its work cut out for it. In 2021, the DRC achieved a DKK 25 million profit.
Established in: 1945
Global presence: 100+ countries
CARE International is an anti-poverty NGO that focuses on areas like gender equality, the right to health, climate justice, the right to food and clean water, and so on. Girls and women are a top priority. They use the Sustainable Development Goals as a guide for tracking progress.
In 2022, CARE reached 174 million people directly in 111 countries. From 2015-2021, CARE helped 4.4 million kids access better quality or more inclusive education. 73.9 million people received humanitarian and basic services or experienced reduced poverty. In the fiscal year (July 2021-June 2022), CARE USA spent USD 658,572 on program activities and USD 56,703 on supporting activities.
Established in: 1961
Global presence: 150+ countries
Amnesty International is an advocacy NGO based in the UK. It claims to have more than ten million members and supporters. Its goal is to promote and protect human rights through awareness campaigns and mobilizing the public. Areas of focus include torture, the death penalty, police brutality, and climate justice.
AI’s impact includes freeing immigrants and asylum-seekers kept in unlawful detention and helping change public opinion on issues like the death penalty. In 2021, AI raised €357m for human rights work. 45% was spent on human rights research, advocacy, campaigning, and education.
Established in: 1972
Global presence: 45 countries
ActionAid is an international NGO working to end poverty, gender inequality, and injustice. It focuses on women, politics and economics, land and climate, and emergencies. Women’s rights are woven through all the NGO’s activities. Its head office is in South Africa, but it has hubs in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.
In 2021, ActionAid’s humanitarian work reached over 3 million people, including over 500,000 children and over 900,000 women. Its total income was €224 million. It spent 64% of that on programs, 18% on support, and 16% on fundraising.
#12. Direct Relief
Established in: 1948
Global presence: 80+ countries
Direct Relief is a California-based humanitarian aid NGO focused on health. Its work includes disaster relief (hurricanes, wildfires, outbreaks, etc) and longer-term aid like supporting healthcare providers, community health, and maternal health. It works in places like Asia, Africa, Mexico, South America, and the United States.
In 2021, Direct Relief provided over USD 1.6 million in specifically-requested medical supplies and medicine, as well as more than 94 million masks, 31 million gloves, and other PPE. The NGO received USD 1.93 billion in public support and spent USD 1.7 billion on assistance around the world.
Established in: 1979
Global presence: 50+ countries
This NGO focuses on ending world hunger and assisting malnourished children. Its solutions include treating malnutrition, strengthening food security, empowering parents, expanding clean water access, and more. Action Against Hunger works in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.
Across the world, Action Against Hunger serves more than 26 million people. According to its 2021 audited financial statement, the NGO’s total revenue was USD 116,826,140. It spent USD 75,858,609 on program services.
Established in: 1839
Global presence: 20+ countries
Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in the UK, is the world’s oldest international human rights organization. It focuses on ending slavery in all its forms, including human trafficking, child slavery, and child marriage. Activities include working with survivors; supporting and promoting legal frameworks for ending slavery; and changing systems that allow exploitation.
In 2021, Anti-Slavery International supported 17,880 people and 14 anti-slavery partner organizations in 10 countries. The NGO also raised £3,166,278 during the 2020-2021 financial year and spent £2,937,095 on ending slavery and fundraising.
#15. Plan International
Established in: 1937
Global presence: 75+ countries
Plan International is a humanitarian and development NGO focused on children’s rights and gender equality. Areas of focus include quality education, protection from violence, sexual and reproductive health, emergencies, and youth empowerment.
According to its 2022 review, Plan International worked in 83 countries. It reached over 4.5 million girls with early childhood development programs and over 5 million girls with its sexual and reproductive health and rights programs. It had a €1.1 billion income. For every euro spent, 80 cents were spent on programs, 12 cents were spent on raising funds and getting new supporters, and 8 cents were spent on HR, finance, etc.