This article analyses some problems emerging in aid practices aimed to support civil society in developing countries. First, it reports the debate emerged in critical development studies regarding non-state actors, and particularly nongovernmental organizations, which have progressively substituted public institutions in service provision and in representative forums, often as a consequence of external pressures made by international donors. Secondly, it analyses the European aid programme named “Non-State Actors and Local Authorities in Development”, whose aim is to fight poverty and increase governance through actions empowering local organisations. More specifically, it evaluates the programme’s coherence and effectiveness in five visited countries (Georgia, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Cameroon) and, particularly, in two projects based in Rwanda. These two case studies show very different results as far as local involvement. Interviews, field visits and analyses of project reports reveal the diverse nature of the various organizations that compose the non-state actors, and their different capacity to express local agency. External donors need to redefine their aid relations in a way to effectively empower the most vulnerable groups.