INGOs individually, or in small groups with closely related concerns, tend to conceive of themselves as operating in an international vacuum. They are consequently surprised to find at some stage that there are other organizations with similar programmes or common problems, or whose programmes are in some way affected by their own. There is only a vague sense of identity with an 'international community' and little general understanding of the elements and linkages constituting the inter-organizational network on which that sense of community is based. Because INGOs do not conceive of themselves as a well-defined group of organizations with common concerns, they consequently find they have little basis for collective action.
There is no universally accepted description for organizations which are termed 'INGO'. 'NGO' is a term applied by the UN-related bodies in connection with their consultative status relationship, but not necessarily in connection with contractual relationships. 'INGO' is a term favoured by some scholars. The INGOs, and especially their membership, seldom conceive of themselves in the category of INGOs at all, but rather as scientific associations, trade unions, youth organizations, etc. The INGO sense of identity, such as it is, is therefore shared only amongst a small elite concerned with the problems or potential of such bodies in general and who are obliged to use the unsatisfactory description to link perceptions about a wide variety of organizations which do not generally perceive themselves as having common concerns.