NGOs, identities, and religion: a case of split personalities?
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The past two decades have seen considerable worldwide growth in the size and influence of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Some 3,451 NGOs were listed as having consultative status by the United Nations in 2007. Using a more relaxed definition of ?NGO?, some commentators have estimated the number of such organisations an order of magnitude higher (Mathews 1997). One explanation for the expansion of the sector is that NGOs meet societal needs which corporations and governments either cannot or will not, thus circumventing problems inherent to both profit maximisation and bureaucratic structures (Seibel and Anheier 1990). It is therefore ironic that many NGOs, established as a necessary alternative to commercial enterprises, are increasingly run on corporate lines (James 1997). This trend is especially apparent in the corporate identities leading NGOs develop and project to their stakeholders through the deployment of strategic communication programs. This paper presents a comparative case study of the Australian arms of two well-known international NGOs, both operating in the same sector (humanitarian aid). One of the organisations in question is religiously-based, the other is secular in nature. The study found that the RNGO (Religiously-based Non-Governmental Organisation) deliberately downplays its religious identity in order to succeed in an increasingly secular Australian social environment. The implications for organisational identity and identification in the NGO sector are discussed. To some extent it appears inevitable that NGOs must cultivate a split personality to achieve their goals, creating both ethical and practical dilemmas for their public relations advisers.
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