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NGOs Collaborating with Corporations: A Legitimacy View

Thu, July 12, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Room, 12A 33


Both cross-sector collaborations and collaborations between NGOs and corporations attract much interest in research and practice (Austin/Seitanidi 2012). This contribution, however, presents findings from a study focusing on legitimacy arguments. Thereby, we follow for example Dacin et al. (2007) who have already recognized the importance of institutional influences in analyzing collaborations. With our experimental study, we differentiate three settings, one representing a non-collaborative opposed to two collaborative forms of differing intensity (Austin 2000, S. 72). That way we are able to gain insights about public legitimacy judgements with regard to these collaborations. Interpreting the data, NGOs risk a legitimacy loss when cooperating with profit-orientated corporations. This is in accord with Herlin (2015), who has reported negative responses inside NGOs due to collaborations with corporations.

This research will provide a deeper understanding of public perception of NGO-cooperation with profit-orientated corporations. It addresses the call for example by Harris (2012) to study collaborations between NGOs and corporations with a focus on the NGO-side. This is even more important, since NGOs seem to bear the costs of collaboration disproportionally in comparison to corporations (Ashman 2001; Yaziji/Doh 2009). Furthermore, as research has been limited so far, the study offers new quantitative empirical arguments on NGO-legitimacy with regard to collaborations. Indeed, our findings support a negative influence. However, we can not agree on a linear effect as argued by Herlin. By choosing the public as the relevant stakeholder group, the study broadens the perspective from the current focus on internal stakeholders to external stakeholders. This helps to gain a more holistic picture. Considering the current debate about the legitimacy of NGOs together with the trend towards collaboration with corporations, our analysis shows the promising potential of a yet underdeveloped direction of analysis.