Five Oaks Consulting

Post: Organizational legitimacy: when the grounds for it shift, and why it matters

Legitimacy is that intangible quality that every nonprofit must grapple with to gain trust and authority in a world where societal values are constantly evolving. 

After all, society decides whether organizations are desirable, proper and appropriate, based on set of assumptions or perceptions that can change.

Gone are the days when aligning with a few key foundations (with financial propriety and low overhead featured centrally) was enough to wear the badge of legitimacy.

In the book Between Power and Legitimacy: The Future of Transnational NGOs, which I co-authored with George Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, we explored this complex landscape. Since its publication in 2020 by Oxford University Press, the dialogue around these issues has only deepened.

The book’s resonance with readers brought us to an exciting juncture. Encouraged by the warm reception from our readers, we’ve been invited to pen an updated, second edition. Considering the vast changes since our last manuscript in late 2019, for sure it is timely to revisit these topics.

BTW, we are also hoping this time to release an Open Access version to ensure our insights are as accessible as possible. This is really exciting – fingers crossed!

Recently, during the ‘First Fridays’ series at Corentus, the team coaching company where I play a role as Core Practitioner, I presented some core shifts in NGOs’ foundations for legitimacy, which are part of the main arguments put forth in the book. There’s a video recap of my short presentation available here (focus on minute 2 through minute 35). For a quick digest of the key points, check out this 2-pager here.

Why focus so much on legitimacy? Our sector’s effectiveness hinges on it. If society doesn’t see the value in our work, our impact is severely diminished, like a tree falling unheard in a forest.

P.S. Curious about what’s on the horizon for our sector, or your leadership team needs to strengthen its performance, effectiveness and cohesion in the form of team coaching? Drop me a line. Together, we can navigate these complex waters—no lifejackets required!