Third Sector Organizations (TSO) face a set of challenges in contemporary western societies, namely a demand for accrued efficacy and quality in their activities, an enhanced efficiency in procedures and creativity in attracting and managing financial resource, or the adoption of an active role within the socio-political context. Such challenges require the management activities of TSOs to obey criteria of thoroughness and quality that simultaneously concur with the principles and values of ethic business.
Such demands involve the creation and preservation of a legitimate functioning standard. Therefore, we think the trend in strategic and managerial responses will be to design communication strategies that, by conveying the transparency and clarity of the TSOs’ modus operandi to various stakeholders, ensure the resources and benefits typically linked to positive institutional reputation. In the context of the so-called Network Society (Castells, Majer, & Gerhardt, 2000), each organization’s diverse modalities of external communication tend to work as a means of legitimizing the organization with a growing notoriety. Against this backcloth, the analysis of organizational legitimacy has been based on a model that rests on three dimensions: pragmatic, moral, and cognitive. (Suchman, 1995).
Organizational legitimacy is a multidimensional concept referring to the perception of a certain entity as desirable or appropriate within a particular set of cultural norms, values, beliefs and definitions (Deephouse & Suchman, 2008; Suchman, 1995). Thus, legitimating strategies concern the dimensions of the organizational setting that are affected, according to some institutional theories (Suchman, 1995), by the cultural or symbolic imperatives of the context within which they operate.
This study is based on empirical data from 89 Portuguese TSOs. The data were collected both through a survey focusing on external communication practices and website analysis. It is assumed that the external communication of the TSOs follows a strategy of organizational legitimacy that is influenced by macro-societal conditions, which mould organizational culture as well as management practices. It is also assumed that within the Third Sector’s current setting, TSOs will tend to prioritise organizational strategies that allow them to gain, preserve, or increase legitimacy levels ascribed by communities and stakeholders. A research that links the main stimuli of organizational legitimacy to communication options is offered. Its main purpose is to characterize the external communication practices of Portuguese TSOs by applying a model of organizational legitimacy to the analysis of their websites.