A non-governmental organization (NGO) is an organization which is independent from the government. Although the definition can technically include for-profit corporations, the term is generally restricted to social and cultural groups, whose primary goal is not commercial.
Some people consider the "NGO" label misleading, as it implies that anything that is "not government" is NGO. Since NGOs are usually non-profit organizations that gain at least a portion of their funding from private sources, many NGOs now prefer the term Private voluntary organization (PVO).
The "NGO" phrase came into use with the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 with provisions in Article 71 of Chapter 10 of the United Nations Charter  for a consultative role for organizations that are not governments or member states – see Consultative Status. The vital role of NGOs and other "major groups" in sustainable development was recognized in Chapter 27 of Agenda 21, leading to revised arrangements for Consultative relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
NGOs exist for a variety of different purposes, usually to further the political and/or social goals of their members. Some example goals include improving the state of the natural environment, encouraging the observance of human rights, improving the welfare of the disadvantaged, or representing a corporate agenda. However, there are a huge number of such organizations and their goals cover a broad range of political and philosophical positions. This can also easily be applied to private/semi-private schools and athletic organizations.
NGOs also vary in their methods. Some act primarily as lobbyists, while others primarily conduct programs and activities. (For instance, an NGO such as Oxfam concerned with poverty alleviation might provide needy people with the equipment and skills they need to find food and clean drinking water)
The relationship among businesses, governments, and NGOs can be quite complex and sometimes antagonistic, particularly when NGOs act to oppose the activities of governments and businesses.