Application of Organizational Theory to Environmental NGOs

Unlike students of interest groups, social movements, and civil society, organizational theorists have displayed relatively little interest in environmental NGOs, focusing instead on private sector organizations, public administration, or large nonprofit organizations in developed nations. Yet despite the peripheral place of environmental NGOs in organizational research, organization theory offers great promise for analyzing them. Because they offer a general theory of organizations, many organization theory concepts and models apply well to many types of environmental NGOs, regardless of whether they are local or national groups or whether they are nonconfrontational organizations focused on drilling wells and protecting trees or confrontational SMOs. This distinguishes them from interest group theories, which are designed for analyzing NGOs that make exerting political influence their primary goal, and from social movement theories, which focus primarily on fairly confrontational SMOs. In addition, because they are analytical rather than normative theories, organizational theories are also less likely than theories of civil society to fall into the trap of confusing the role that analysts hope that NGOs might play in society with explaining their actual behavior. With its focus on explaining the goals, strategies, and successes and failures of particular organizations, researchers using organization theory are also less likely to fall victim to sweeping generalizations that treat all NGOs as an undifferentiated whole. Consequently, we make heavy, though not exclusive, use of organizational theory in what follows.

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