Defining and Researching NGOs >> Researching NGOs

Researchers looking for information sources on NGOs should have a look at our bibliography and our links page, as well as our list of groups conducting research on NGOs. The Non-Governmental Organization Research Guide from Duke University also provides a good starting point.

There are many printed sources of information on NGOs, both historical and current.

For details of NGOs, an excellent starting point is the Directory of British Associations, published regularly by CBD Research. The Directory (at the time of writing, in its 17th edition), contains contact details and basic information regarding a huge range of British associations.

Guidestar UK is, since December 2005, the most comprehensive web-based encyclopaedia of registered charities in England and Wales (with plans to include in the future charities in Scotland and Northern Ireland and social enterprises and informal voluntary groups). Guidestar brings together existing information in one place and is displayed in a way that is easy to read and understand. Many of the 170,000 charities listed by Guidestar are NGOs. Most of Guidestar information comes from the Charity Commission, which covers England and Wales and remains the major source and the statutory body in this area. The Charity Commission counterpart in Scotland is the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). The Charity Choice A to Z lists provide links to thousands of UK charities and non-profit organisations who can provide information on all aspects of charity work, from charity formation, fund raising and events to voluntary work and numerous other issues and causes.

Published annually, Whitakers' Almanac is also a useful source, containing a chapter on societies and associations, although only some of the most prominent bodies are included here.

For English bodies, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations publishes an annual guide of those member organisations with either a national/international remit, or a national reputation for excellence, The Voluntary Agencies Directory. The equivalent umbrella bodies for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are, respectively, the WCVA, the SCVO and the NICVA.

From an historical perspective, the above publications all have previous editions, which might facilitate tracking down some details of an older organisation. Alternatively, the following publications may be of interest, although some may be difficult to get hold of:

  • Barberis, P Encyclopaedia of British and Irish Political Organisations London: Pinter 1999
  • Butt Philip, A. Directory of Pressure Groups in the European Community Harlow: Longman 1991
  • Cook, C. The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives. Sources since 1945, Routledge: London, 2006
  • Foster, J. & Sheppard, J. (1995) British Archives: a Guide to Archive Resources in the UK, 3rd edition, London: Macmillan.
  • HMSO Social Trends (various years)
  • Mercer, P Directory of British Political Organisations Harlow: Longman 1994
  • Mercer, P Directory of British Political Organisations London: Politicos 2003
  • OECD Human Rights, Refugees, Migrants & Development: Directory of NGOs in OECD Countries Paris: Development Centre of the OECD 1993
  • Shipley, P Directory of Pressure Groups and Representative Associations 2nd edn. Epping: Bowker 1979 [1]
  • Strategy Unit Private Action, Public Benefit a review of charities and the wider not-for-profit sector September 2002. Also available online ( PDF, 387 Kb). Researchers may also be interested in the 2002 report from HM Treasury, The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in Service Delivery ( PDF, 520 Kb)
  • The law concerning charities in England and Wales has recently been changed. The Charities Act 2006 has just passed through Parliament. More information can be obtained through the Charity Commission website.
  • Information regarding charities in England & Wales can be accessed via the Charity Commission. For the rules surrounding charities and political campaigning, see Charity Commission leaflet CC9: Campaigning and Political Activities by Charities (Version 09/04) ( PDF).
  • Information regarding rates of volunteering and civic participation can be sourced via the Citizenship Survey (formerly known as the Home Office Citizenship Survey, or HOCS) which has so far been carried out in 2001, 2003 and 2005.
  • Wolfenden The Future of Voluntary Organisations: The Report of the Wolfenden Committee London: Croom Helm 1978

The following three journals might also be of interest as they have published previously articles on NGOs in an historical perspective: Social Movement Studies, Twentieth Century British History and Contemporary British History.
Some journals are specifically addressing NGOs or voluntary sector issues: Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (see:; Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary & Non-Profit Organisations; Voluntary Action: The Journal of the Institute of Volunteering.

Researchers interested in international development will find the British Library for Development Studies useful. The Library holds publications and grey literature for a wide variety of UK and international NGOs working in development. The library's catalogue can be searched by corporate body, and the library's holdings are organised in this way. International development researchers might also be interested in the BOND directory of British international development NGOs.

Warwick University has a wide-ranging collection of political pamphlets, which researchers might find useful. A full list can be found on Warwick's University Catalogue.

Researchers should also note that the collection policies of major UK archives dealing with NGOs are detailed on our "NGOs Archives Help Kit". This can provide good indication of which collections these repositories already have.

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Groups conducting Research on NGOs / Voluntary Organisations

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[1] Previous edn. published as The Guardian Directory of Pressure Groups & Representative Associations London: Wilton House 1976.

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