The article is based on empirical research concerning NGOs in Romania. Badly and well-run organizations illustrate the problem of how NGOs should function in order to perform their task of developing a grass-roots democracy, i.e. they should not serve an 'anonymous' society, nor should they serve to fulfill the activists' own needs, such as offices and cars. Well-functioning NGOs are based on their members' real needs and participation. Activity in a civic society favors our feeling of being a citizen having a real influence on public affairs.