Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an incredibly important role in the international community: through their agenda setting abilities, issues are addressed, norms are created, and states are held accountable for their actions. Most scholars contend that in order for an issue to be adopted by the international community, it must first be adopted by a salient, “gatekeeper” NGO. Not all NGOs are salient, but existing literature acknowledges disparities in NGO salience only with regard to broader subjects like issue salience and issue emergence. Less research has been done to determine whysome NGOs are more salient than others. This study addresses this gap in literature by asking the question what factors determine the salience of international non- governmental organizations? The study operationalizes salience as amount and type of media coverage and amount of funding. It examines two prominent theories proposed by IR scholars Charlie Carpenter and Wendy Wong: network theory and organizational theory. Network theory contends that an NGO’s salience is not the result of intrinsic attributes, but of its structural position within a network. Organizational theory argues that the way an NGO distributes internal agenda setting and implementation powers determines its salience. To test the theories, a comparative case study of the following four international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) was done: Geneva Call, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Giving Women, and Graduate Women International; interviews were conducted of employees of the INGOs. Two organizations were chosen with qualities network theory necessitates for salience, and two were chosen with qualities of organizational theory. The study finds that two organizations representative of different theories, Geneva Call and the ISHR, were salient and therefore rejects both hypotheses that either network or organizational theory explain NGO salience. Interviews with NGO employees revealed their different understandings of salience; they suggested four alternate aspects of salience: recognition/reputation, impact, exceptionality, and uniqueness. The study concludes by suggesting that further research should be done on factors leading to NGO salience, particularly with regard to repeating themes that emerged from NGO employee interviews.


Kille, Kent


Political Science


International Relations

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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