NGOWatch.org, launched on June 11, 2003, describes itself as "a collaborative project of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
According to the sponsoring organizations, the growth of non-government organizations (NGOs) and their impact on public policy is cause for concern. While the public NGOs score consistently high in credibility ratings, especially relative to business, the NGO Watch sponsors prefer to see them more as part of a self-interested industry. "While it is true that many NGOs remain true to grassroots authenticity conjured up in images of protest and sacrifice, it is also true that non-governmental organizations are now serious business," they stated on their website at the time of their initial launch.
In a revised version of their website they focus more on government funding of NGOs. "In recent years, NGOs have become more prominent, more visible across a broader spectrum of interests. Governments and international organizations increasingly rely on NGOs to implement aid programs and deliver development assistance, channeling millions of dollars through these organizations and arguing, in effect, that NGOs have the capacity to address social and environmental problems with greater efficiency than government agencies. Today, thousands of internationally operating NGOs deliver billions of dollars of assistance annually, and the U.S. government gives a large share of its aid funds through NGOs," they state. 
In the eyes of the project sponsors, NGOs are taken too seriously. "NGO officials and their activities are widely cited in the media and relied upon in congressional testimony; corporations regularly consult with NGOs prior to major investments," they state.
NGO Watch was launched, because “recent years have seen an unprecedented growth in the power and influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While it is true that many NGOs remain true to grassroots authenticity conjured up in images of protest and sacrifice, it is also true that nongovernmental organizations are now serious business”. Because of this NGOwatch argues that it wants to bring clarity and accountability to NGOs (NGOWatch – Mission Statement). The initiative is well financed and already has 160 NGO’s listed.
To coincide with the launch of NGOWatch, the AEI co-hosted a conference called “We're Not from the Government, But We're Here to Help You - Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few,” with the right-wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia.
The list of speakers shows some of the interconnections of key individuals working against the environmental movement and other progressive NGOs across the globe. Speakers from other right-wing think tanks included: John Fonte from the Hudson Institute, Gary Johns and Mike Nahan, from the Institute of Public Affairs, Fred Smith, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and David Riggs from the Capital Research Center that runs www.greenwatch. Others of note were Jeremy Rabkin, from Cornell University, and AEI academic, Roger Bate, an AEI fellow and Jon Entine an AEI Fellow.
The conference and IPA’s activities are obviously having an effect. In September 2003, the Christian Science Monitor reported how “Spurred by conservative rumblings over the growing clout of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Australian government is taking a closer look at such groups' activities at home and abroad”. The article noted how the investigation “could potentially cut off some charities from further government access, funding, or tax breaks, experts say”(J. Kremmer (2003) “Australia Scrutinizes Influence of Nongovernmental Groups”, Christian Science Monitor, 5 September, p7 ).
The month before, in July 2003, the Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello released draft legislation threatening to remove tax exemption status from NGOs if they were deemed to be more involved in political lobbying and advocacy than in community work. It was a move widely condemned as a bid by the Government to silence its most strident critics.
The result is that suddenly the two primary sources of funding for NGOs - tax deductible donations and government grants or payments for carrying out consultative work - are under simultaneous attack.
Just as conservative groups argue that philanthropic foundations that fund social justice or environmental programs have strayed from their founders donor intent, so too they seek to portray NGOs as having strayed from their original objectives. "Many groups have strayed beyond their original mandates and assumed quasi-governmental roles. Increasingly, non-governmental organizations are not just accredited observers at international organizations, they are full-fledged decision-makers," they complain. 
"Throughout much of the world, non-governmental organizations are unregulated, spared any requirement to account for expenditures, to disclose activities or sources of funding or even to declare their officers. That is not the case in the United States, where the tax code affords the public some transparency about its NGOs. But where is the rest of the story? Do NGOs influence international organizations like the World Trade Organization? What is their agenda? Who runs these groups? Who funds them? And to whom are they accountable?," they argue.
The project sponsors had grand plans for the project, proclaiming that they would "without prejudice" compile information on NGOs, corporations and developments on current issues.
While the sponsors acknowledged at the time of its launch that the site was a work in progress, few could have anticipated that over a year on, the project appears to have stalled.
Inter-Press Service journalist, Jim Lobe, sees the project as part of an attempt to curb NGOs ability to influence governments and international negotiations. "Having led the charge to war in Iraq, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an influential think tank close to the Bush administration, has added a new target: international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)," he wrote.
Canadian writer Naomi Klein sees AEI's NGO Watch project as one strand in a strategy to muzzle advocacy groups. "The war on NGOs is being fought on two clear fronts. One buys the silence and complicity of mainstream humanitarian and religious groups by offering lucrative reconstruction contracts. The other marginalizes and criminalizes more independent-minded NGOs by claiming that their work is a threat to democracy. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is in charge of handing out the carrots, while the American Enterprise Institute, the most powerful think tank in Washington, D.C., is wielding the sticks," she wrote. 
NGOs currently on the Watch List
Some NGOs are currently linked and have NGOWatch profiles.
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Freedom House
- Global Policy Forum
- Green Cross International
- International Planned Parenthood Federation
- Margaret Sanger Center
- National Organization for Women (NOW)
- National Rifle Association
- National Wildlife Federation
- Open Society Institute
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America
- Population Council, The
- Population Institute
- Sierra Club
- The World Council of Churches
- United Nations Foundation
- United Nations Association of the United States of America
- United Nations Watch
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development
- World Resources Institute
Other Related SourceWatch Resources
- "Is Corporate Social Responsibility Serious Business?: Is Corporate Social Responsibility Serious Business?", American Enterprise Institute, March 3, 2006.
- "The New NGO Law in Russia: Weakening Civil Society or Strengthening the Rule of Law?: The New NGO Law in Russia: Weakening Civil Society or Strengthening the Rule of Law?", American Enterprise Institute, March 1, 2006.
- "After the Storm: Lessons Learned from the Tsunami One Year Later: After the Storm: Lessons Learned from the Tsunami One Year Later", American Enterprise Institute, January 10, 2006.
- "NGOs: Indispensable or Unaccountable?: NGOs: Indispensable or Unaccountable?", American Enterprise Institute, December 7, 2005.
- "We're Not from the Government, but We're Here to Help You: Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few", American Enterprise Institute, June 11, 2003.
- Jim Lobe,"U.S. Conservatives Take Aim at NGOs", OneWorld, June 12, 2003.
- Jim Lobe, "Bringing the War Home: Right Wing Think Tank Turns Wrath on NGOs," Adelaide Independent Media Center, June 16, 2003
- Naomi Klein, "Now Bush wants to buy the complicity of aid workers, Guardian (UK), June 23, 2003.
- Naomi Klein, "The War Against NGOs, TomPaine.com, June 23, 2003. (This is a republication of a commentary column that first appeared in the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail).
- Jean Hardisty and Elizabeth Furdon, "Policing Civil Society: NGO Watch", The Public Eye, Spring 2004 • Volume XVIII, No.1
- Jessica Irvine, "Costello aims to make protesters pay for boycotts", Sydney Morning Herald, February 23, 2007.