Although the humanitarian landscape is constantly evolving, one factor which stands out among the players of aid, and particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is the significance of the private, not-for-profit dimension. After tracing the historical origin of those organizations, defining them and stressing how well known and well regarded they are, the article goes on to discuss the main questions they set. It points out that although each one has its own specific characteristics, their operating methods have much in common. In conclusion the role NGOs play on the international stage is also mentioned, as well as their position regarding UN plans to overhaul the international humanitarian system. Faced with a transnational environment and a growing demand for accountability both to beneficiaries and to sponsors, with uncertain times ahead and difficult choices to make, NGOs must be even more humanitarian in the approach they take.