Putting the word ‘non-profit’ out of business?

Becky Tolson

Words matter….I was intrigued by Bill Drayton’s call to eliminate terminology such as NGO and non-profit organization in favour of perhaps more compelling and descriptive terms such as citizen sector or organization. While I do believe he has a point, I am not sure Alliance should necessarily adopt these terms wholesale. It really depends on the context of a particular piece, as well as the author, and the region under discussion.

In the Baltics, for example, one has to be careful about using the term ‘citizen organization’, given that there is still a significant Russian non-citizen population in Latvia and Estonia. Civic sector might be a more neutral term. Finally, while I am not crazy about the term ‘non-governmental’ since it defines what we are not, I do not agree that it should be jettisoned because ‘it suggests a conflict with government … that certainly should not be there’. In Central and Eastern Europe, advocacy groups dealing with controversial issues may indeed be in conflict with government, for very good reasons.

Becky Tolson
Executive Director, Baltic-American Partnership Fund


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