Structural Characteristics of Legitimate Partner NGOs
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Structural criteria for defining the legitimacy of NGOs as partners of corporations often focus on technical aspects. As a consequence, structural criteria might serve as indicators for the descriptive legitimacy of NGOs but not for their normative legitimacy. This becomes evident in attempts such as to define NGOs by assessing whether they qualify for tax-exempt status in accordance with the US Internal Revenue Code. Legal accountability must not be confused with normative legitimacy. It is however admitted that structural measures such as disclosure statements might help to reveal corporate front groups, which constitute the most extreme case of blurred boundaries between NGOs and interest groups. Yet, beyond that, the orientation to be gained from accountability mechanisms which NGOs deploy is often hampered by the fact that these mechanisms mainly address the requirements of governments and donors. When it comes to the accountability of NGOs to their constituency, structural criteria are not as unambiguous. It is argued that NGOs need to be linked to their activist constituency to some extent in order to receive input from the grassroots. But structural criteria do not help in assessing the right degree of proximity between NGOs and more radical groups. Structural criteria thus only provide limited normative orientation. They might help to reveal the blurred boundaries between NGOs and interest groups but in general they fail to capture the fine lines between the three actor types.
KeywordsCo-optation Corporate front groups Grassroots Upward accountability Downward accountability Non-membership organizations Democratic structures
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