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Legitimacy, accountability and impression management in NGOs: the Indian Ocean tsunami

Susan Lee Conway (Tasmanian School of Business and Economics University of Tasmania Launceston Australia)
Patricia Ann O'Keefe (Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Sue Louise Hrasky (School of Accounting and Corporate Governance, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 21 September 2015




Prior research has investigated legitimation strategies in corporate annual reports in the for-profit sector. The purpose of this paper is to investigate this phenomenon in an NGO environment. It investigates Australian overseas aid agencies’ responses to criticism of the relief effort following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. It aims to determine whether voluntary annual report disclosures were reflective of impression management and/or of the discharge of functional accountability.


The paper applies content analysis to compare the structure and content of the annual reports of 19 Australian overseas aid agencies before and after the Indian Ocean tsunami.


Results suggest voluntary disclosure in annual reports significantly increased post-tsunami and was more consistent with impression management activity rather than functional accountability suggesting a response to the legitimacy challenge. The use of impression management tactics differed with agency size, with larger agencies using ingratiation in order to appear more attractive while smaller ones promoted their particular achievements.


This paper makes a contribution by extending prior impression management and legitimacy literature to an NGO environment. It has implications for the development of these theories as it looks at organisations where the stakeholders are different from the for-profit sector and profits are not the main concern. It raises issues about the concept of accountability in the NGO sector, and how the nature of organisation reporting is changing to address the challenges of a sector where access to funds is highly competitive.



Thank you to the three anonymous reviewers for your insightful and productive comments.


Conway, S.L., O'Keefe, P.A. and Hrasky, S.L. (2015), "Legitimacy, accountability and impression management in NGOs: the Indian Ocean tsunami", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 7, pp. 1075-1098.



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