The development efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have achieved a much higher profile in recent years. In the UK, increased public awareness of the role of NGOs in the mid-1980s produced a surge in private donations at a time when official aid was being cut back - although these have since declined. Governments have been channelling more official aid through NGOs in a number of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, including Britain. NGOs are perceived by some to share the objectives of official donors but to work more effectively in promoting certain forms of development. Others argue that the goals of NGOs are quite distinct from those of government agencies and that their work is not directly comparable. Concentrating primarily on the experience of northern NGOs, this Briefing Paper examines the range of their activities, their operating methods, their relationship with official aid donors, and the evidence of their impact.