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Organizational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal: what does the literature tell us?

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…1
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
Nuno Themudo
Organisational environment and NGO
structure in Mexico and Portugal: what
does the literature tell us?
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Programa Interdisciplinario
de Estudios del Tercer Sector

Nuno Themudo2
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…3
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
1. Introducción 7
2. Organisational Structure 8
3. The Structure of NGOs 9
4. Organisational Theory 13
1. Environment and structure are uncorrelated 14
2. Environment (explanatory variable) determines structure (dependent variable) 14
3. Structure determines environment 15
5. Organisational Theory and NGOs 16
6. The Country Contexts: Mexican NGOs 16
6.1 NGO sector 17
6.2 Environmental NGOs 18
6.3 ENGO structure 19
6.4 ENGO environment 20
7. The Country Contexts: Portuguese NGOs 22
7.1 NGO sector 22
7.2 Environmental NGOs 23
7.3 ENGO structure 24
7.4 ENGO environmental 24
8. Conclusión24

Nuno Themudo4
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…5
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
“M ANAGERS AS ARCHITECTS DESIGN work processes, create work groups, and specify hierarchy and
procedure. They configure and structure organisations, combining available resources to achieve eco-
nomically and socially desirable objectives. Then, as builders, they implement designs in organisatio-
ns. Managers of nonprofit organisations engage in organisational design and construction by crea-
ting and filling positions, and combining paid staff with volunteers. They may concentrate decision
making for key areas of strategy in small groups or diffuse it widely.[…] Organisational design and
design implementation are core management responsibilities in any organisation because they can
have enormous consequences for organisational effectiveness. That is, how well an organisation is
‘put together’ can affect its performance” (Kushner and Poole, 1996:119)

Nuno Themudo6
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…7
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
n this paper I review relevant NGO , nonprofit
and organisational theory literature. These li
teratures contain insights into the research pro
blem – the relation between organisational
structure and environment in
NGO s. The review of
the existing literature revealed three main types of
deficiencies. The first is a lack of empirical resear-
ch on the relation between organisational environ-
ment and structure in
NGO s. There has been exten-
sive research on this topic in the general
organisational literature, but very little has been
said about
NGO s in particular. The second deficiency
in the literature refers to weaknesses in studies
previously carried out in the area. This study tries
to build on them contributing new insights to the
research area. The third is a general lack of des-
criptive material on
NGO s when compared to other
types of organisations, particularly in countries of
intermediary development. Together these deficien-
cies in the literature provide the basis for the re-
search objectives and a justification for this study.
Both the
NGO and the nonprofit literatures
are reviewed here because of (a) the general lack
of academic research on the management of
when compared to nonprofits and (b) the often
artificial division in the literature between
NGO s andnonprofits (Lewis, 1999). Traditionally, the litera-
ture on
NGO management has been considered a
subset within the wider literature on nonprofit
management. It has been argued, I believe correc-
tly, that the management of
NGO s shares much in
common with the management of nonprofits
working outside the development field (Billis and
MacKeith, 1993; Fowler, 1989). The comparison
NGO s in an aid recipient (Mexico) and aid
giving country (Portugal) called for a review of the
literature of third sector organisations in both the
South and the North. Mexico and Portugal esca-
pe easy slotting between North and South. Thus,
NGO s working in these countries do not fall easily
into definitions of
NGO s or nonprofits based on
work in developing vs. developed countries respec-
tively (e.g., Billis and MacKeith’s (1993) definitio-
The paper is divided into two main areas of
literature review. The first relates to the analytical
component of the research problem, that is, the
relation between environment and structure in
organisations. The second relates to the empirical
context for the study – Mexico and Portugal. The
paper begins by reviewing the literature on
structure. Given the general lack of research in this
area, the following section reviews organisational
theory in search for hypotheses about
NGO struc-
ture. Next, from organisational theory Resource
Dependency Perspective (
RDP ) is selected and des-
cribed as providing a good conceptual framework
to analyse the research topic. Two studies, which
RDP to understand NGO s (Hudock, 1997;
1 Nuno Themudo is a PhD candidate working at the Centre for
Voluntary Organisation, London School of Economics and visiting
researcher at the Programa Interdisciplinario de Estudios del Tercer
Sector, Colegio Mexiquense. He is sponsored by the Programa Praxis
XXI, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Lisbon.

Nuno Themudo8
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
Natal, 1999), are described and provide the basis
for an understanding of the research topic. These
studies did not however apply
RDP to understand
NGO structure. That is the aim of the present stu-
dy. The second part of the paper reviews the exis-
ting literature on
NGO s and nonprofits in Mexico
and Portugal. Very little empirical research has been
undertaken in this area. One study in particular
looked at environmental
NGO s in Mexico (Kurzin-
ger et al., 1991). This study was described exten-
sively providing the basis for some hypotheses,
which were tested against empirical data.
This section examines questions around NGO struc-
ture through a review and discussion of selected
previous research on the topic. Organisational
structure is a fundamental concept in understan-
ding organisation and management. According to
an organisational theorist,
“All organisations have to make provision
for continuing activities directed toward
the achievement of given aims.
Regularities in activities such as task
allocation, coordination and supervision
are established which constitute the
organisation’s structure” (Pugh, 1990:1)
The study of organisational structure is at the
heart of organisational theory. Again Pugh argues
that (1990:ix)
“organisation theory can be defined as the
study of the structure, functioning and
performance of organisations, and the
behaviour of groups and individuals
within them.”
One of the most relevant questions for our
present research around the determination of struc-
ture is whether it can be chosen. This question is
related to the problem of management discretion,
organisational autonomy and accountability (res-
ponsibility). Is structure determined by manage-
ment or is it determined by external control (ofmany different constituencies)? Or to what extent
can management be made responsible for the
structure of
NGO s? To what extent can manage-
ment be made accountable to the internal ‘regu-
larities’ (structure), which impact organisational
The issue of the influence of environmental
variables on management practice is very relevant
in a time when
NGO accountability is at the fore-
front of academic and policy discussion (Brett,
1993; Edwards and Hulme, 1995; Fry, 1995; Leat,
1998). To the extent that
NGO management is
determined by external influences responsibility for
NGO performance must also rest with those influen-
ces as well as on internal members. The poor per-
formance of
NGO s can (and perhaps should) be
largely passed on to the ‘external controllers’ of the
organisation. This is particularly true in organisatio-
ns, which are very dependent on their environment
for resources. That is the case of most
NGO s (e.g.,
Fowler, 1997, Hudock, 1995). If
NGO s are stron-
gly controlled by external factors, financial accoun-
tability (and responsibility) is still possible. Strate-
gic accountability on the other hand, can be only
tentative because ultimate responsibility for dys-
functional structure and poor performance may lie
outside the
NGO . Pfeffer and Salanick (1978) men-
tioned this problem when they stated that we are
more used to attribute responsibility to individual
rather than situational factors. In the real world is
however situational factors may be just as impor-
tant as individual ones.
NGO s and their managers
could be made responsible for issues in which they
had little impact or control.
The external control of organisations is a
serious and unexplored issue in
NGO management
literature (Hudock, 1997). Much of the legitima-
cy of
NGO s rests with their claim to being ‘non-go-
vernmental’ and ‘non profit making’ constituting
a third sector of activity often being called the ‘in-
dependent sector’. The extreme implication of the
‘external control’ of
NGO s is a third sector, which
is not independent, used to serve the purposes of
the public and commercial sectors.
On the other hand the external control of
organisations has serious implications for
management practice. Seeking (or building) a fa-

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…9
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
vourable environment may be the single most
important contribution of
NGO managers to the
effective running of the organisation. This is con-
sistent with recent calls for (
NGO ) managers to be
‘enablers’ rather than controllers. We have had little
theoretical advancement in this area since De Graaf
(1987) alerted to the importance of monitoring the
environment. In practice, however, some of the
NGO s I researched already understand this. Their
managers spend most of their time dealing with
external issues. The dependence of
NGO s on their
environment has been recognised in the literatu-
re. However, little systematic research has been
undertaken in this area (Hudock, 1997).
Despite a rapid growth in the academic literature
NGO s and NGO management the organisatio-
nal structure of
NGO s remains largely unexplored.
Research on
NGO management has looked, with
rare exceptions, only indirectly into structure.
MacKeith (1993) undertook a review of
management literature. Research on NGO structure
did not feature prominently in her review. She iden-
tified four major themes and issues in the
management literature. The first theme is the
strengths and weaknesses of
NGO s and the impli-
cations for their role in development. The second
theme is
NGO organisational problems and the
nature of
NGO management. The relationship bet-
NGO s and governmental agencies is the third
theme. Finally, the fourth theme is the relations-
hip between Northern
NGO s and Southern NGO s.
It is within the general theme of organisational
problems and the nature of
NGO management that
reference to organisational structure can be found.
The references identified by MacKeith (1993) centre
around the question of the centralised vs. decen-
tralised structure, the adequacy of a bureaucratic
structure, and the pressures for a participatory
structure. [expand especially to include the excep-
tions] Underlying the theme of organisational pro-
blems and the nature of
NGO management, there
is an important discussion in the
NGO and nonprofitmanagement literature concerning the distinctive-
ness of these organisations vis-à-vis state and for-
profit organisations (Billis and MacKeith, 1993). On
the one hand some authors (e.g., Ditcher, 1989)
NGO s are essentially like any other organi-
sation. They should apply ‘nut and bolt’ manage-
ment theory to their organisation before they even
consider any distinctiveness. On the other hand,
other authors (e.g., Billis and MacKeith, 1992,
1993) have warned against the indiscriminate
adoption of other, mainly private, sectors into
nonprofits and
NGO s. This debate is very relevant
because, as it will be shown later in this paper, there
is a lack of theoretical development around the
management of
NGO s. This lack led me to search
for relevant theories in the generic organisational
literature looking for theories, which could help
NGO reality. To the extent that NGO s are
distinctive theories developed by researching other
types of organisations will be less useful. To the
extent that
NGO s are similar to other organisatio-
ns, general organisational literature will be more
useful. Assessing
NGO distinctiveness is therefore
an unavoidable aspect of this research.
There is an underlying theme in the litera-
ture around the legitimisation of decentralised
structures for
NGO s. Young (1992) described the
tension between centralisation and decentralisation
in international advocacy
NGO s. He presents the
model of federal organisational structure as the
most adequate organisational form to accommo-
date the demands of national diversity and inter-
national coordination. Hudson and Bielefeld (1997)
also looked into international
NGO s. They conclu-
ded that their most likely structure is umbrella-like
and that unitary hierarchical corporate structures
are not likely to be found in international
NGO s.
Brown and Covey (1987 in MacKeith, 1993) argue
that the bureaucratic structure may be inappropria-
te for the work and internal constitution of
NGO s.
Instead a multiple bridge structure of connected,
smaller, more informal modules may be more sui-
table. Similar explorations of the relation between
central offices and local affiliates can be found in
the nonprofit literature (e.g., Bailey, 1992).
In terms of participatory structure, Sheehan
(1998) argued that
NGO management (and struc-

Nuno Themudo10
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
ture) is often claimed to be participatory, but little
has been written on it. This is even more surpri-
sing since there is a large number of references to
participatory development. Much has been writ-
ten on the external aspect of participatory deve-
lopment, but not much on the, internal, organi-
sational factors which may be related to
participatory development. [why?] He relates a par-
ticipatory structure to the nature of
NGO s’ partici-
patory development work
“‘participatory management’ may
represent a conscious effort to exercise
management authority in ways that are
consistent with the broader social values
of the
NGO . In particular, it may be seen as
an attempt to address the management
challenges that the task of promoting
community participation imposes on an
organisation” (p. 25)
Various studies on NGO management cha-
llenges indicated the expectations of staff to par-
ticipate in all levels of decision making (e.g., Billis
and MacKeith, 1993), i.e., their desire for a parti-
cipatory structure. Contrasting with the previous
views, De Graff (1987) argued that
NGO s should
not necessarily adopt a participatory management
style (or structure) just because development
should be participatory.
In the nonprofit literature, structure and
performance have been shown to be correlated.
Kushner and Poole (1996) examined 19 nonpro-
fits and concluded that dysfunctions in structure
are associated with organisational failure. They also
observed that a variety of structures are associa-
ted with good performance.
Bordt (1997) represents one of the few
works in the literature that directly researched
nonprofit structure. She undertook a study on the
structure of women’s nonprofit organisations in
New York. She began by reviewing previous stu-
dies on women’s nonprofits, which described a
division of organisational structures around two
ideal types: bureaucracies and collectivities. She
then tested the main factors affecting structure
(derived from a literature review): ideology, tasks,
environment, size, and age as predictors of struc-ture (p. 55). She found that age was the most
important predictor of structure. This finding is
consistent with the organisational life-cycle litera-
ture (e.g., Perkins, Nieva and Lawler, 1983). It con-
tradicts however Stinchombe’s (1965:143) claim
that there is a “correlation between the time in
history that a particular type of organisation was
invented and the social structure of organisations
of that type which exist at the present time”. Or-
ganisations that are born during the same era will
look alike and will carry that structural ‘imprint’ for
the duration of their lives (Bordt, 1997). If Stichom-
be (1965) were correct the older women’s orga-
nisations should have been collectivist in structu-
re because they were inprinted as such during the
early years of the women’s movement. Bordt
(1997) found the opposite is true. Older organi-
sations were more bureaucratic which is consistent
with the ‘life-cycle’ literature (Perkins, Nieva and
Lawler, 1983).
Bordt (1997) also found that ideology and
tasks were strong predictors of structure. Organi-
sations with routine tasks are more likely to adopt
bureaucratic structure than organisations with non-
routine tasks. This finding is consistent with con-
tingency theory (e.g., Perrow, 1967). In terms of
ideology, more explicitly feminist groups tended
to be collectivities. This finding is consitent with a
large literature which claims that
NGO s (nonpro-
fits) are value driven (e.g., Brown and Covey, 1989;
Handy, 1988; Mason, 1996).
More controversial is Bordt’s (1997) finding
that the environment (state funding and relation
with other organisations) and organisational size
were not very important factors influencing struc-
ture. This finding conflicts with a classic study from
the general organisational literature. The Aston
Group (Pugh et al., 1976, 1977, 1981) analysed
purpose, ownership, technology, size, and depen-
dence on formal structure. This study collected
extensive data from organisations in a variety of
fields. They concluded that finding that both size
and environment were important predictors of
structure. The larger the size the more structured
the organisation is. This finding contradicts Bordt’s
conclusions. Also contrary to Bordt’s findings,
environment is another important influence on

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…11
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
structure. The more dependent on external orga-
nisations the less autonomy and the more centra-
lised the decision making.
This conflict between the findings of Bordt
and the Aston Group is very important for our
purpose of understanding
NGO structure. On the
one hand the Aston Group’s evidence is much
stronger than that of Bordt. Bordt (1997) collec-
ted her data on 26 nonprofits. She estimated that
the population of women’s nonprofits in New York
is 200. Her sample of 26 organisations is too small
for conclusive conclusions to be drawn. In contrast,
the Aston Group’s experiment is held out as a clas-
sic study on organisational structure (Pugh, 1990).
Unfortunately, Bordt’s (1997) study did not com-
ment enough on this conflict. She referred to pre-
vious studies on women’s nonprofits (Mattews,
1994; Martin, 1990; Reinelt, 1994) which
“question the inevitability of the impact
[of state funding on structure], leaving
open the possibility that women’s
organisations can resist bureaucratic
pressure or even affect government
structures and practices themselves”
(Bordt, 1997:59)
to support the idea that it is uncertain whe-
ther the environment has an impact on structure.
But Bordt’s findings run counter to the growing
recognition of the importance of the environment
on organisational structure. This view shared by a
variety of contemporary theoretical perspectives
(e.g., population ecology, resource dependence,
new institutionalism) is that structures are created
to deal with environmental pressures and that these
pressures vary among environments (Meyer, 1992).
Bordt’s research focuses on
NGO s (nonpro-
fits) and as such her findings may be defended on
the grounds that
NGO management is distinctive
of that of other sectors of organisation, i.e., from
general organisational theory. Most of organisatio-
nal theory ideas have been generated studying
large companies (Meyer, 1992). They may inappro-
priate for understanding
NGO s (Billis and MacKei-
th, 1993).
There are two main flaws with this argu-
ment. First, the idea that
NGO s are distinctive hasbeen used more as a warning about, than a rule
against, applying general organisational theory to
NGO s or nonprofits. The need for ‘nuts and bolts’
management theory (Dichter, 1989) has domina-
ted both practice and research on
NGO s. It has not
led to distinctive theory building or to the rejec-
tion of any particular theory from the generic or-
ganisational literature. Instead, it has suggested the
need to expand some of the existing theories to
include some particularities of
NGO organisation.
We should, thus, question Bordt’s findings in the
light that they run counter to much of organisatio-
nal theory, but we cannot instantly reject them
because it may be that the environment has some
influence but in
NGO s that influence is too small
to show.
Second, a closer look at arguments for the
distinctiveness of
NGO s shows that Bordt’s study
is not controversial in relation to ‘distinctive’ issues.
NGO s have been said to be distinctive because of,
for instance, their ownership (Hansmann, 1996),
the motivation of members (Etzioni, 1961), and
type of activity (public good provision without state
power) (Anheier, 1990). Bordt’s controversial fin-
dings were about size and environment. Not much
has been said about the distinctiveness of the
NGO s are immersed in as a cause of
organisational distinctiveness. Could
NGO s face a
different organisational environment from other
organisations and be distinctive organisations as
a result? Perhaps an initial answer to this problem
revolves around the recognition of multiple cons-
tituencies that
NGO s face. Contingency theory
(Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967) defended that diffe-
rent parts of organisational environment will in-
fluence differently different parts of structure. As
such the structure will reflect the many different
sub-environments facing the organisation. In the
NGO literature, some authors have alluded to the
impact of these multiple constituencies in chan-
NGO structure (e.g., Brown and Covey, 1989).
Bordt (1997) found that receiving state funds
did not have an important influence on the struc-
ture of the nonprofits she studied. This finding goes
against much descriptive data on
NGO s and
nonprofits. There is an important body of litera-
ture on the ‘contract culture’, which contradicts

Nuno Themudo12
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
Bordt’s finding that the environment does not have
much influence on structure. The argument is that,
basically, as nonprofits receive more income from
the state in a contract form they become increa-
singly bureaucratised (see Billis and Harris, 1996).
A similar literature exist on
NGO s about their de-
pendence on resource providers on their environ-
ment, such as official agencies (Edwards and Hul-
me, 1997) or Northern
NGO s (Hudock, 1997).
Researchers on
NGO s are increasingly recog-
nising the importance of the organisation’s envi-
ronment. Although the environment has not yet
been directly tested as a predictor of structure,
references to its impact are common (e.g., Carro-
ll, 1992; Edwards and Hulme, 1992; Hudock, 1995,
1997; Natal, 1999). An important theme in
management research is the relation with the state
(MacKeith, 1993). There are many references to the
possibility of formalisation or institutionalisation
NGO s become too close to the state. One
possible consequence is a change from a partici-
patory structure to a bureaucratic one (Natal,
1999). A similar thesis is put forward in nonprofit
research and its analysis of the ‘contract culture’
(see Billis and Harris, 1996). In their research on
NGO s Brown and Covey (1989) found that NGO s
have multiple internal realities reflecting different
external constituencies. They argued for an exter-
nal as well as internal perspective in the diagnosis
of organisational problems. It is often in the ex-
ternal environment that internal problems origina-
The influence of the environment on
goes beyond the problem of resource dependen-
cy. It has also been observed that
NGO s (nonpro-
fits) are highly institutionalised organisations (Etzio-
ni, 1961). Although Scott and Meyer (1991) did
not consider
NGO s in particular I would expect NGO s
to resemble mental health clinics, schools, legal
agencies, and churches as organisations with stron-
ger institutional environments and weak technical
environments (technology).
Despite the importance of the institutional
environment to
NGO s very little research has analy-
sed this relation. Hudock (1997) is a notable ex-
ception, providing the most detailed analysis of the
impact of the institutional environment on
NGO s.She developed and applied a conceptual fra-
mework to analyse the relation between Southern
and Northern
NGO s. Her framework was based on
Resource Dependency Perspective (Pfeffer and
Salancik, 1978). She argued that the quantity and
quality of relations to resource providers are criti-
cal to the resource dependency of a
NGO . The more
resource providers a
NGO has the less resource
dependent it is but the more resources it has to
spend maintaining those relations. Her work pro-
vides asteping stone for the application of
RDP to
NGO s, which will also provide the basis for this
study. Her work will be described in more detail
Hudock’s (1997) conceptual framework
however was developed to understand relations
between organisations and not organisational
structure. Thus it is not suitable to the objectives
of this study concerned with organisational struc-
ture. The original approach used by Hudock was
also developed to explain organisational structu-
re (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978:chapter 9). Very few
works have used
RDP to understand nonprofits (in
May/1999 according to the Social Science Citation
Index around 1910 academic publications cited
Pfeffer and Salancik’ (1978)
RDP , but only 10 tit-
les were about nonprofits, none of which was
concerned with structure!).
This is an unresolved debate needing more
empirical investigation. In particular, the relation
between the environment and structure must be
specifically addressed. On the one hand, most
writings on
NGO management ignore the influen-
ce of the environment (Hudock, 1997). Even des-
pite the widespread acceptance in the non-mana-
gement literature that the environment has an
important influence on
NGO s. Bordt’s (1997) stu-
dy provides a strong reinforcement of this position
after establishing a very weak correlation between
environment and structure.
Fundamental to the understanding of the
relation between environment and structure is the
concept of slack (March and Cyert, 1963). Slack
permits to buffer the influence of the environment
allowing time for adaptation and learning. Slack
also permits the loose coupling of (formal) struc-
ture and activities. Formal structure can then res-

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…13
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
pond to the environmental demands made on the
organisation, while activities can respond to effec-
tiveness imperatives (Meyer and Rowan, 1991).
Slack is extremely important if effectiveness is to
be achieved in strongly institutionalised environ-
ments, where organisations have to devote a lar-
ge part of their resources to maintaining a struc-
ture which gives the organisation legitimacy.
Despite the relevance of the concept there has
never been a study of slack in
NGO s or nonprofits.
Until now I have argued that the literature on NGO s
and nonprofits does not provide an adequate and
thorough examination of
NGO structure. Organi-
sational structure has been a perennial research
object of organisational theory (Pugh et al., 1990)
Looking into this literature would seem like a va-
luable step toward understanding
NGO structure.
It seems appropriate to apply the ideas developed
in this field to the emerging academic field of
management. Organisational theory has often
been usefully applied to understand
NGO mana-
gement (e.g., Billis and MacKeith, 1993; Harris,
1995; Hudock, 1997).
The application of organisational theory
ideas to
NGO s must however be done carefully.
Most of its ideas have been generated studying
large companies in the US (Meyer, 1992). They may
wholly inappropriate for understanding and explai-
NGO s (Knoke and Prensky, 1984) and cannot
thus be readily applicable to
NGO s. While some
authors have emphasised the similarities between
generic management and
NGO management (Di-
chter, 1989) the
NGO literature indicates many
potentially distinctive aspects of
NGO management.
Given that organisational theory has thus far es-
sentially concentrated organisations other than
NGO s, bringing in a new type of organisations may
yield interesting test to its theories and models. This
is one of the objectives in this study. Testing orga-
nisational theory models in new settings as well as
testing the idea of
NGO distinctiveness from the NGO
management literature. Also, adding research on
NGO s to organisational theorists’ databank on or-ganisations, in and of itself, is another important
Academic interest on organisational struc-
ture is very old. Among the first ideas developed
were Weber’s concept of bureaucracy and Taylor’s
scientific management. Weber (1947, original in
1924) outlined bureaucracy as the ideal rational
structure for administration. Taylor (1912) empha-
sised the technical requirements of production as
the imperative for structure. Later human motiva-
tions of those working in an organisation was re-
cognised as a main drive for organisational struc-
ture (e.g., Mayo, 1949; McGregor, 1960).
It was only much later that ideas about the
influence of environment on structure originated
with contingency theory. The influence of the en-
vironment was first understood as technical
environment (Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967; Thomp-
son, 1967). Later theories dedicated focused their
attention on the institutional environment. These
theories include resource dependency, resource
mobilisation, new institutionalism, and new insti-
tutional economics. Resource Dependency Perspec-
tive (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978) emphasised orga-
nisation needs for resources from the environment
and the consequent claims for control of the or-
ganisation by resource providers. Resource Mobi-
lisation Theory (McCarthy and Zald, 1973) looked
at social movement organisations. It emphasises
the need for organisational resources by social
movement organisations. New Institutionalism
(Meyer and Scott, 1983; Powell and Dimaggio,
1991) looks at the processes of institutionalisation
(structuration) of organisation. New Institutional
Economics (North, 1990; Williamson, 1985) focu-
sed on transaction costs to explain organisations.
Different institutional settings can affect the cost
of transacting and thus affect the choice of orga-
nisational forms used.
At it was mentioned above the understan-
ding of what determines organisational structure
has been a major field of inquire in organisational
theory. Not surprisingly the answer to this problem
is controversial. There is a long standing debate
over the possible relation between organisational
environment and structure. There are three broad
positions in this debate. The first states that envi-

Nuno Themudo14
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
ronment and structure are uncorrelated. Structu-
re is determined by other factors, normally inter-
nal ones such as motivation or ownership. The se-
cond defends that environment (explanatory
variable) determines structure (dependent variable).
1. Environment and structure are uncorrela-
Some authors have explained organisational struc-
ture ignoring environment. Weber (1947), for ins-
tance, emphasised one particular structural form
as more efficient, due to rationalisation principles,
regardless of context. Bureaucracy would be a more
efficient, more rational, structure. McGregor (1966)
is another example. A motivational approach
(Theory Y, i.e., participatory management) deter-
mines the ideal structure applicable to all organi-
sations in all environments.
Other authors, did not address the issue of
structure specifically, but a reading of their argu-
ments seem to indicate that they included struc-
ture when they referred to organisation in gene-
ral. Chester Barnard (1948) has a functionalist view
of organisation (and consequently its structure). He
argued that organisations exist to fulfil a purpo-
se. The strucure, thus, is dependent on the purpose
of the organisation. It will only be correlated to
organisational context when purpose is dependent
on context. The main influence on structure is
however from purpose. Etzinoni (1961), has a si-
milar view on organisations. He understands or-
ganisations as instruments. Thus, their emphasis
on performance. The structure, is dependent on
the coordinating the kind of power used with the
kind of individual involvement in the organisation.
Thus a structure based on normative power will be
suited for a moral involvement. Tannenbaum
(1968), on the other hand, argues that organisatio-
ns are systems of control of individuals. The struc-
ture, this view would imply, serves the purpose of
control rather than adaptation to the organisational
environment.2. Environment (explanatory variable) deter-
mines structure (dependent variable)
Population models of organisation (e.g., Hannan
and Freeman, 1989) are the most radical propo-
nents of the subordination of structure to environ-
ment. Based on a biological model of organisations
they claim that in an environment of limited resour-
ces where different organisations compete for
them only organisations with an appropriate struc-
ture will survive. Death is the cost of having an
inadequate, not adapted, structure. The mecha-
nism is the survival of fittest or most adapted. In-
adequate structures will not survive in the compe-
titive environment.
Some authors have emphasised the impor-
tance of technology in determining structure (Wo-
odward, 1965; Thompson, 1967). Other authors
have emphasised the uncertainty, instability, and
diversity of the context in determining structure.
For Burns and Stalker (1966) the mechanistic struc-
ture is adapted to stable conditions and the ‘or-
ganic’ structure to unstable conditions. For Lawren-
ce and Lorsch (1967) the integration and
differentiation (two opposing principles) in orga-
nisational structure depends on uncertainty and
diversity of environment. For Emery and Trist (1969)
the structure should be designed according to
environmental complexity and turbulence.
For Chandler (1977) the evolutions in trans-
portation and integration of markets, which lead
to a growth of potential market, have determined
the evolution of structures. Thus, the functional
structure was succeeded by the multi-divisional
structure to deal with the complexities arising from
market expansion.
The Aston group (Pugh et al., 1976, 1977,
1981) analysed the impact of purpose, ownership,
technology, size and dependence on formal struc-
ture (which they defined as the structuring of ac-
tivities and concentration of authority). The influen-
ce of ownership and technology was not very
significant. The higher size the more structured.
The more dependent on external organisations the
less autonomy and the more centralised the deci-

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…15
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) developed the
Resource Dependency Approach. In essence, the
structure satisfies external demands (stakeholders
or constituencies). External demands are a func-
tion of munificence, scarcity, and competition.
Structure result of negotiation between external
demands and the search for autonomy of internal
For New Institutionalism authors (e.g., Powell
and DiMaggio, 1991) the institutional demands for
legitimacy determine (formal) structure. Mission
and efficiency determine informal structure. Slack
permits this difference between formal and infor-
mal structure.
It is important to note that although the
influence of the environment on structure is not
as questionable today as it was in the past, there
is still a debate around the relative importance of
internal and external determinants of structure.
Also, “Historically, organisational analysis [including
NGO s] has focused attention on internal rather than
external aspects of organisations” (Hudock,
1997:chapter one, p.30). This fact leads to a bias
in the literature toward internal explanations of
3. Structure determines environment
Is the reverse relation possible? That is, can the
structure determine the environment?
Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) believe this is a
possibility. Organisations can chose and influence
their environments. A department may even exist
(in the structure), which is responsible for doing
that. By undertaking successful lobbying, for ins-
tance, organisations may influence their environ-
ment, making it acceptable for structure rather
than the other way round.
On the other hand, it has also been said that
different parts of the organisation face different
environments (or sub-environments, Lawrence and
Lorsch, 1967). The structure, different combina-
tion of sub-parts in the organisation, will thus de-
termine which sub-environments is the overall en-
vironment made of.
These authors have also referred to the im-
portance of environment in determining structu-re. So what they are drawing our attention for is
that structure and context have a mutually depen-
dent relation, in a cyclical process. “The cycle of
contextual effect, organisational response, and new
contexts must be examined more fully in the fu-
ture to describe adequately the external control of
organisations.” (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978:conclu-
ding sentence)
Lindblom (1959) mentions an aspect, whi-
ch is important not to understand the relation
between the organisational environment and struc-
ture but between structure and mission. He argues
that very often the structure (means) will determine
the mission (ends).
Some more radical approaches have alerted
to the fundamental importance of the environment
in understanding organisations (contingency
theory, population models). Other approaches have
enriched the picture of the relation between or-
ganisations and their environment by also stres-
sing the ability of organisations to influence their
environment (
RDP , New Intitutionalism, New Ins-
titutional Economics).
NGO s are not thus just the
product of their environment but they also produce
Miles and Snow (1984) offered a concilia-
tory position on the debate between internal vs.
external factors affecting organisational structure.
They used the concept of organisational strategy
as a link between internal and external factors. They
argue that there should be a close fit between
structure (internal) and environment (external) for
effective performance. Strategy should ensure this
fit. Since I am interested on the relation between
environment and structure, the internal response
(strategy) is fundamental to understand this rela-
tion. The idea of strategy does not however redu-
ce the need to look into the relation between struc-
ture and environment. The idea of ‘fit’ as a desirable
organisational strategy to improve performance is
not however unproblematic.
There is a conflict between the idea of fit
proposed by Miles and Snow (1984) and the con-
cept of loose coupling advanced by Meyer and
Rowan (1991) in the New Institutionalism school.
In heavily institutionalised environments (such as
in industrialised societies) loose coupling of with

Nuno Themudo16
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
the environment may be the best option to opti-
mise efficient performance. Organisations have a
loose coupling with their environment when they
shape formal structure according to institutional
demands (to comply with institutional ‘myths’) but
shape their actual activities (informal structure)
according to performance needs. What would
appear then to be a ‘misfit’ between structure (in-
formal) and environment is an optimising strate-
As we saw earlier an important research on the
structure of
NGO s, Bordt (1997), found that the
environment was not a very good predictor of
structure in the
NGO s observed. This finding con-
tradicts many organisational theorists claims that
the environment is a fundamental influence on
structure. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, Bordt’s
(1997) findings contradict a growing recognition
among researchers on
NGO s about the importan-
ce of the environment in influencing
NGO s. This
conflict suggests a need for more empirical research
in this area.
To gain more understanding about the re-
lation between structure and environment in
an appropriate theoretical framework is needed.
There are a number of possible theoretical fra-
meworks in organisational theory. They were briefly
reviewed above. This research tries to be relevant
to real life issues and is problem based (following
the tradition at the
CVO for a straight relation bet-
NGO theory and practice). Resource depen-
dency is a widely recognised problem for
(Fowler, 1997; Hudock, 1997; Natal, 1999). In their
study of Mexican environmental
NGO s, Kurzinger
et al. (1991) showed that in a self evaluation of
their work, financial dependency was the only
problem where the majority of
NGO s gave a nega-
tive evaluation of their work (see section 6.2 Envi-
NGO s).
RDP and its focus on resources, environment,
and structure appeared thus as the most indica-
ted approach to look into these issues.
RDP has been
usefully applied to the study of nonprofits and mostimportantly
NGO s (Hudock, 1997; Natal, 1999).
This study then adds to previous research on using
RDP to look into NGO s. It also expands it by looking
into a problem, which had not been looked at pre-
viously – the impact of the environment on
Hudock (1997) was the first researcher to
RDP into the study of NGO s. RDP had been
previously applied to the study of nonprofits to
research executive leadership (Heimovics et al.,
1993) and the relation between the state and
nonprofits (Saidel, 1991). Hudock (1997) howe-
ver took the approach developed in a Northern set-
ting and showed that it helped explain
NGO s in
Sierra Leone and The Gambia. She focused on the
relation between
NNGO s and s NGO s. n NGO s cons-
tituted the main source of resources in the s
institutional environment. She also looked into
capacity building efforts made by n
NGO s on their
Southern counterparts.
Natal (1999) used
RDP to inquire into whe-
ther receiving funding from the state increased or
NGO ability to foster beneficiary parti-
cipation. He looked into a regional government
scheme to fund local environmental
NGO s. He
found that in the cases that he looked at receiving
funding from the state did not reduce
NGO ability
to promote participation. On the contrary he po-
ints to a number of positive influences that state
funding had on
NGO s which translated into hig-
her participation promotion. State funding, for
instance, gave an incentive for
NGO s to improve
their management and organisation.
NGO s were
then more capable of motivating and involving
beneficiaries in their projects.
Having reviewed the relevant literature on
NGO s, nonprofits and organisational theory I will
now review relevant literature about the specific
country contexts for this study: Mexico and Portu-
There is very little academic work on NGO s or
nonprofits in Mexico and even less in Portugal. This
is an area lacking in systematic empirical resear-

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…17
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
ch. In this section the existing academic work on
NGO s in Mexico is reviewed so as to provide
an initial picture of the sector. In the following
section, work on Portuguese
NGO s is reviewed. The
lack of research on
NGO s in these two country
contexts is an important justification for this stu-
dy. In particular, only one study has been under-
taken on environmental
NGO s in Mexico and none
on environmental
NGO s in Portugal. Moreover, this
study intends to compare the two countries as
intermediary development countries, that is, coun-
tries which do not fit easily definitions of ‘North’
or ‘South’, but instead lay somewhere at their edge
(Santos, 199?). Both Mexico and Portugal belong
to the ‘South’ of ‘Northern’ trading blocks,
and EU respectively. To date, there has been no
specific research the
NGO sector of intermediary
development countries. Although not directly con-
cerned with this issue, this study generated inter-
esting hypotheses to be tested by future research
on the
NGO sector in intermediary development
NGO sector
There is very little academic work on the Mexican
NGO sector. I draw on findings from Bebbington
and Farrington (1993) and Carroll (1992) on La-
tin America and Landim (1998) for Brazil, in the
search for additional clues to help understanding
the Mexican
NGO sector. Looking at the Brazilian
experience can be helpful in understanding Mexi-
co because “Brazil exemplifies the complex set of
forces which has given the Latin American nonpro-
fit sector its distinctive flavour” (Anheier and Sa-
lamon, 1998:24).
There are three main denominations for
NGO s. NGO s could be either ‘civil associations’ (as-
sociaciones civiles), ‘private institutions for so-
cial assistance’ (instituiciones privadas de assistencia
social), or numerous types of popular organisations
(organizaciones populares) that could come under
the group of grassroots membership
NGO s, such
as cooperatives or neighbourhood associations. The
different legal denominations reflect differences in
aims, activities, type of constitution, and tax regi-
me.The history of
NGO s is Mexico is yet to be
written (
CEMEFI , 1991). Bebbington and Farring-
ton (1993b:201) identified three generations of
NGO formation in Latin America: (1) the oldest NGO s
emerged out of the charitable work of the Chur-
ch, (2) later
NGO s have their roots in liberation
theology, community development and Freire’
work, (3) the youngest type of
NGO s appeared in
the mid-1980s and could be denominated ‘tech-
NGO s, which are concerned with imple-
mentation and not with politics. Today all gene-
rations exist alongside each other, but to a large
extent they remain tied to the original motivatio-
ns. There are interesting parallels between Bebbing-
ton and Farrington (1993) account and Korten’s
(1987) generations (relief and welfare, local deve-
lopment, and sustainable systems development).
It is not clear however if Mexico will develop a ‘four-
th’ generation of ‘advocacy networks’ as predic-
ted by Korten (1990).
In the Mexican context
NGO activity proba-
bly started in the XIX century and it was restricted
essentially to church related
NGO s. After the socialist
revolution (1910-20) the Mexican state took on
social responsibilities of looking after the needs of
the poor. Since to a large extent the state was
successful in doing so and most social interests
where represented in the state civil society never
became very strong. There was a general attitude
in society that the state should take care of social
matters (
CEMEFI , 1991).
Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake was a turning
point in the organisation of civil society. The emer-
gency and the scale of the urgent need in a city
with a population of around 20 million people
pushed the state’s capacity to a limit and civil so-
ciety was invaluable in its co-operation. Many
groups formed to tackle the social problems pro-
voked (or aggravated) by the earthquake, such as
homelessness, extreme poverty, poor health con-
ditions. These organisations outlived the immediate
relief action, often becoming formal
NGO s dedica-
ted to welfare provision (Natal and Themudo,
Landim (1998) shows that nonprofit law in
Brazil reflects the historical tension between the
centralised, often autocratic, state and the volun-

Nuno Themudo18
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
tary associations. Under these laws and regulations
organisations classified as “public interest utilities”
by the state received favourable benefits that went
beyond tax exemption. While any nonprofit orga-
nisation can be designated as a public interest entity
only a fraction of the entire sector has been able
to win this designation, which in practice has of-
ten been handed out as a political favour. As a result
the application of the law became politicised and
was used by the state to channel resources to allied
groups and organisations. Only since 1990, with
the process of democratisation, have legal and
administrative changes been put in place to make
the law both less restrictive and less political.
Mexico has many
NGO s working in its terri-
tory, both n
NGO s and domestic NGO s. NGO s in
Mexico are in general welcome by the state and
seen as fundamental partners in development (Kur-
zinger et al, 1991). The Mexican government has
at all administrative levels put much emphasis on
civil society participating in the country’s develo-
pment process. In these conditions we find some
NGO s which depend on public funds for about half
of their total income (Natal and Themudo, 1996).
Those are however exceptions, normally working
in welfare services, providing public services on
state contracts or grants. As Landim (1998) puts
about the nonprofit sector in Brazil it must be seen
in the context of a strong state and a weak civil
In Latin America, grassroots support
(Carroll, 1992) tend to be staffed by middle class,
non-Indian, professionals and are administered by
bureaucratic procedures. Grassroots organisatio-
ns on the other hand tend to be composed of the
rural poor, often Indian, and administered through
less formal procedures (Bebbington and Farring-
ton, 1993).
The most comprehensive database on Mexi-
NGO s was elaborated by the Mexican Centre
for Philanthropy –
CEMEFI (Centro Mexicano para la
Filantropia)– and it contains records on 4,400
(September/1996). This database was compiled by
combining the most important scattered state and
private databases on
NGO s. As elsewhere, NGO s in
Mexico are on a clear ascending evolution in ter-
ms of number, influence, resources, size (
CEMEFI ,1991). This trend appears to be rooted both in the
relation between
NGO s and the state, the increa-
sing support by foreign donors (mainly US) and
NGO s and other members of civil society
both domestic and international. Unfortunately,
not enough data has yet been compiled about the
impact of Mexico’s entry to
NAFTA on the NGO sec-
CEMEFI ’s database shows that (in 1996) 78%
of Mexican
NGO s are located in Mexico City, the
capital and large metropolis, which contains only
25% of the country’s total population. Moreover,
it would be fair to say that at least another 10%
of the
NGO s are also located in large urban areas.
This tells much about the urban, educated, cha-
racter of most Mexican
NGO s. In terms of areas of
activity the study found out that welfare (27.8%)
is the most common activity. Education follows
(21.2%), health (20.3%), development (13.2%),
research (8.2%), environment (3.9%), arts (3.9%),
and human rights (1.5%).
Johns Hopkins study on nonprofit sector in
6.2 Environmental
In the early 1970s the first environmental
were formed. These were essentially associated
with professionals, educated urban citizens, con-
cerned with the large infrastructure development
path at the time being pursued by the Mexican
state. They emerged as a social movement reflec-
ting similar evolution in other countries such as the
US during the 1960s. In the first half of the 1980s
when Mexico received more information about
environmental movements and the green parties
of the industrialised countries the formation of new
NGO s intensified (Kurzinger et al.,
The first National Meeting of Environmen-
talists, in 1985, provides a landmark in the history
of the environmental
NGO sector in Mexico. The
growth in number of
NGO s further accelerated.
Opposition against nuclear power was a strong
incentive for the formation of
NGO s around this
time (Kurzinger et al., 1991). Around this time the
threat of the construction of a nuclear power plant

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…19
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
in a very important ecological site, Laguna Verde,
aroused the opposition of a number of groups
which united against the state project.
The discussion around the entrance of Mexi-
co to the
NAFTA , in the late -1980s, appears to have
divided the environmental
NGO s between those
who opposed it and others who saw it as a new
opportunity for Mexico’s economy and environ-
mental protection. Those
NGO s that were against
Mexico’s joining
NAFTA argued against the indus-
trialisation path that would follow. Those in favo-
ur of
NAFTA believed it was inevitable in the
country’s development and it would bring new
opportunities to tap on the US and Canada’s of-
ten very strict environmental legislation bringing
new environmental awareness to Mexico.
Simon (1997:244) commented about the
NGO sector in Mexico
“The part of Mexico that is highly
developed, the first world Mexico,
supports a small but highly influential
group of environmentalists who are
concerned about air pollution and urban
transportation, but who also worry about
global issues like climate change and loss
of biodiversity. […] There is a small
academic community that is less public
but highly influential in formulating policy.
[…] But there is no mass membership
organisation or political movement
associated with environmentalism in
Mexico; by and large it remains an elite
One study, Kurzinger et al. (1991), provides
a comprehensive description of the environmen-
NGO sector in Mexico. Their study generated
extensive information about the organisation and
the activities of the
NGO s and the general Mexican
context within which they operate. It constitutes,
to date, the only systematic empirical effort to un-
derstand Mexican environmental
NGO s. As such this
study will be extensively described here.
Kurzinger et al. (1991) should be treated as
a fundamental introduction to the environmental
NGO sector in Mexico. They should also however
be treated with caution for three main reasons.First, the sample base for the study was very sma-
ll. They collected data from 42 environmental
NGO s.
Second, the sample was selected trying to cover a
wide range of organisations on the basis of the
indication of two individuals directly related to
work. But, “it was not possible to obtain a repre-
sentative sample in the quantitative sense” (p. 24).
So it is impossible to determine the statistical con-
fidence of the results. They justified this methodo-
logy on the grounds that no universe frame exis-
ted on all environmental
NGO s (p. 24). Third, as
Kurzinger et al. (1991) have found, environmen-
NGO s during the 1980s NGO s were being for-
med at an increasing rate. This trend probably
continued and even accelerated during the 1990s,
if it followed a similar pattern to that of most
in Mexico (Chalmers and Piester, undated). Almost
a decade has passed since Kurzinger et al. (1991)
collected their data and the sector may now be very
different from what it was like then. One of the
main objectives of this study is thus to collect more
descriptive data on Mexican environmental
to fill this important gap in academic knowledge.
ENGO structure
Kurzinger et al. (1991) analysed
NGO structure. The
majority of
NGO s has constituted themselves as ‘civil
associations’ (associaciones civiles) (p. 92). They
tend to be small both in terms of workers (paid or
unpaid) and members. Only 5
NGO s had more than
10 workers. Only 7
NGO s had more than 50 mem-
bers (pp. 91-92). It is notable that, with the excep-
tion of three
NGO s, all workers were graduates.
There is a strong tendency for these graduates to
have a natural sciences degree instead of social
sciences (p. 92). The majority of
NGO s has physi-
cal premises, with phone and typing machine or
computer. In 14 of 20 cases where the equipment
belonged to the
NGO , they had international finan-
cing. On the other hand none of the 15
NGO s which
had equipment belonging to their members recei-
ved international funding.
The decision making structure of was care-
fully examined. The dominant form of organisation
(in 19 cases of 40) was a “horizontal [structure] that combines the democratic participation of

Nuno Themudo20
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
members with a collective leadership” (p. 92). A
horizontal structure also combined with individual
leadership (4 cases). A vertical structure, with va-
rious hierarchical levels was present both with a
collective leadership (5 cases) as individual leader-
ship (3 cases). In other 8 cases one leader domi-
nated a little differentiated organisation (p. 92).
The last organisation had a little differentiated or-
ganisation with horizontal structure. If we rearran-
ge the information presented by Kurzinger et al.
(1991) we can see that 24 cases had a horizontal
structure. Vertical structure was present in 8 ca-
ses. The remaining 8 cases had a undifferentiated
structure. Decision making was collective in 24
cases and individual in 16 cases. These findings
would lend support to the thesis that the structu-
re of environmental
NGO s like women’s nonpro-
fits (Bordt, 1997) can be divided into bureaucra-
cies and collectivities. According to Kurzinger et al.
(1991) collectivities would be the dominant struc-
ture (more than half the cases), with bureaucra-
cies representing about one quarter of all
NGO s and
undifferentiated structures being the other quar-
This tendency toward a collectivity structu-
re conflicts with Bebbington and Farrington’s
(1993) description of grassroots support
NGO s as
being staffed by professionals and administered by
bureaucratic procedures. According to Kurzinger
et al. (1991) environmental
NGO s in Mexico tend
to be staffed by professionals but administered by
participatory, collective, procedures. How can we
account for this conflict?
ENGO environment
Funding is a fundamental aspect of the relation
NGO and its environment. Kurzinger et al.
(1991) state that 75% of the cases they looked at
had some form of self financing (p. 92-93). Stran-
gely, they say, financing through regular dues from
members is very unusual in Mexico (11 cases).
Selling of products is an important source of re-
sources (12 cases) as well as consultancy jobs (8
cases). In relation to donations. “Less than one
quarter of all cases receive donations (9 cases). Thatis due, partially, to the difficulty in being recogni-
sed as a public utility organisation” (p. 92).
About half of the
NGO s (20) receives funds
from Northern
NGO s. Official agencies provide
funds to 8
NGO s. The smaller support from official
agencies is in great part explained by the fact that
(at the time of the study) most official agencies
preferred cooperation n
NGO -sNGO , giving funds to
the n
NGO which then gave them to a Mexican NGO .
The state gives funding to 12 cases, generally su-
pporting specific projects. In five cases however this
support implies financial dependency since the
state is the single funding provider.
In terms of relations with other (Mexican)
NGO s, 75% (29) of the cases cooperate sporadi-
cally with other Mexican
NGO s; 40% (16) coope-
rates on a permanent basis with other
NGO s (pp.
95-96). Kurzinger et al. (1991) conclude that as a
whole the level of exchange among Mexican
is not high. The main benefit of cooperation was
information exchange (mentioned in 24 cases). Less
important were “strengthening of negotiation
power” (16), “undertaking of concrete actions”
(15), “moral support” (15), and “personal and
infrastructure support” (13). Forty percent of the
cases did not belong to any national networks. No
network can claim to represent the environmen-
tal movement in Mexico as a whole (p. 95).
Seventy-five percent (29) of the
NGO s has
links with foreign
NGO s. The majority of the cases
(20) receive financial support from the foreign
7 receive consultancy support and 2 get lobbying
support (pp. 96-97). The geographical origin of the
NGO s is split between European (20) and
US (19). Contact with Canadian or Latin American
NGO s is very small. It is important to note that fi-
nance, consultancy and interest support comes
exclusively from the relation with
NGO s from Nor-
thern, or “industrialised”, countries. The relation
with Latin American
NGO s is restricted to informa-
tion exchange.
Kurzinger et al. (1991:97) noted some criti-
cisms of Mexican
NGO s toward their foreign coun-
terparts. In particular their was a disapproval of the
tendency of some foreign
NGO s to “impose the
policies and development themes of the moment”
and the general paternalistic behaviour (4 cases).

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…21
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
The short term financing was another complaint
(4 cases). There was also specific complaints that
NGO s required too detailed and perfectionist
accounts given the small amount involved, which
limits the time for actual work. There was also a
lack of ‘institutional’ support, that is, only projects
would be supported, but not the minimal infras-
tructure and organisation of the Mexican
Surprisingly more than 75% of the
NGO s (34
cases) has links with the state, mainly at federal but
also state and local level. Thirty percent (12) of all
NGO s interviewed receive financial support from the
state. Moreover, the fact that 27.5% (11) work as
consultants to the state and 22.5% (9) undertakes
projects with the state “allows us to conclude that
there exists a surprisingly close web of relations
NGO s and the state” (p. 98). Many NGO s
22.5% (9), however, had no relation with the sta-
te. Despite the closeness in the relation
NGO s-sta-
te, there is much scepticism. In 17 cases there were
criticisms as to the lack of executive capacity of the
state. In 15 cases there were complaints about the
excessive bureaucracy of the state. Other com-
plaints were the lack of interest in
NGO work (12
cases), repeated efforts to coopt
NGO members
NGO s were able to mention more than one
criticism. Unfortunately, Kurzinger et al. (1991) do
not tell us whether the same
NGO s made all the
criticisms or whether all
NGO s were equally criti-
cal. Kurzinger el al. (1991) emphasise that one
quarter of all
NGO s had to face some form of sta-
te repression. In 4 cases the repressive actions were
specifically directed at the
NGO and its members.
In a number of cases public demonstrations had
been violently dissolved by the police and indirect
threats probably done by public officers (p. 98).
An issue not explored by Kurzinger et al. (1991) is
how do we account for the coexistance of a “sur-
prisingly close web of relations” with the state of
the sector and the actual threat of a repressive state.
Is the repression directed at specific
NGO s, leaving
NGO s unaffected? Or does the threat of re-
pression permeate all relations, so that
NGO s know
physical force may be used against them?
About half of the
NGO s (45%) has contacts
with international official agencies. Twenty percent
receives financial support and 10% give consultan-cy to such organisations. Most
NGO s (35 of 40) has
links with universities, mainly as information ex-
change. Half of the
NGO s (21) have links with the
private sector. Twenty percent (8) received dona-
tions (financial or in kind). Nine
NGO s had relatio-
ns with the church, normally as intermediary bet-
ween the
NGO s and beneficiary groups. The relation
with labour unions is almost non-existent.
Almost half of the
NGO s had some link with
political parties. These links were however mainly
at personal or informal level. The main cause for
the lack of official links is the protection of their
political independence, avoiding arousing suspi-
cions of political/party dependency (p. 99). Mo-
reover the links with opposition parties could make
their work more difficult.
In terms of organisational challenges, finan-
cing organisation and activities is clearly the lea-
der (30 of 39 cases). Management and organi-
sation is the next (20). Technical capacity is not a
large problem for these
NGO s (5 cases mentioned
it). Cooptation intents (5) and repression to the
(4), repression to the beneficiaries (3) are impor-
tant obstacles to their work. The lack of time (3)
(i.e., lack of labour resources) and the lack of tax
deductibility (3) were also important problems.
Thus, most
NGO s (26) said they required financial
support for their management, 22 mentioned they
needed financing for projects, 15 mentioned (in-
formation) exchange, 11 consultancy and 10 lo-
bbying (p. 146).
One of the most interesting findings of Kur-
zinger et al.’s (1991) study relates to
NGO s’s self
evaluation. Organisations were asked to evaluate
their own (organisational) work. The results are
reproduced in the following table:

Nuno Themudo22
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
Financial independence was the only theme
NGO s gave an overall negative evaluation of
themselves. The
NGO s were essentially satisfied
enough with other aspects of their work so as to
give them an overall positive evaluation. However,
in terms of financial independence, the negative
evaluations more than doubled in number the
positive ones. It could them be argued that by and
large there is a strong sense of financial dependen-
ce in the environmental
NGO sector in Mexico. This
is perceived by the
NGO s themselves.
This section explores the Portuguese environmen-
NGO sector. There is no systematic empirical
study of the environmental
NGO sector in Portugal.
This is an important gap in academic knowledge,
which this study tries to address. I will draw on a
wider literature on
NGO s and nonprofits in gene-
ral to get an initial picture of the sector, which
provides us with hypotheses for empirical testing.
NGO sector
The legal denomination for Portuguese
NGO s and
voluntary organisations is very complex. In terms
of social welfare and development third sector
organisations can be called ‘social solidarity asso-
ciations’ (associações de solidariedade social), so-
cial solidarity foundations (fundações de solidarie-dade social), and mutual aid associations (asso-
ciações de socorros mútuos). The ‘social solidarity
associations’ is the most commonly used denomi-
nation. In terms of environmental work a different
denomination is used: ‘environmental protection
associations’ (associações de defesa do ambiente).
Before the socialist revolution in 1974, civil
society organisations were largely limited to soli-
darity organisations run by the Catholic Church. The
oldest and most important of these organisations
were founded in the early XVI century, at the time
when men joining the discovery effort left women
and families in need. These organisations were
specially oriented to health care provision. After the
revolution, however, the Portuguese state took on
the ‘universalist’ and centralised approach to the
provision of welfare and took control over the
health work done by the church charities. These
charities united against an unfavourable post re-
volution environment and entered the provision of
new social activities mainly concerned with assis-
ting children and the elderly. Today, they have pro-
ven to be very flexible organisations providing a very
valuable service in those new areas of activity (Ca-
tarino, 1991).
After the socialist revolution a number of
rural grassroots associations became formalised.
The state strongly supported this associativism
movement. Recently, from the mid-1980s, a num-
ber of new civil society organisations have sprung
up. Aware of the limitations of the state in fulfi-
lling the revolutionary promises and under a favo-
urable democratic environment these organisations
were formed essentially to complement the state
trying to reduce its limitations in developmental
and welfare work. Many of this generation of or-
ganisations were concerned with environmental
The Portuguese state is very keen on co-
operating with
NGO s, which translates, for instance,
into a large proportion of the
NGO s funds having
a public origin (Ribeiro, 1995). The European Union
is another important source of funding for Portu-
NGO s working in regional development.
Under the convergence funds many programmes
have been implemented with and through
NGO s.
Ribeiro (1995:91) found, that for many of projects
Theme Positive evaluation Negative evaluation
(number of NGOs) (number of NGOs)
Conscientisation 26 2
Concrete projects 24 8
Self evaluation 21 2
Collection and processing
of information 21 3
Public profile 20 1
Cooperation 19 3
Political weight 16 1
Technical capacity 16 7
Access to target group 15 9
Stopping of harmful projects 13 6
Methodological advances 13 1
Organisational capacity 12 8
Survival as a group 11 2
Financial independence 7 15
Source: Kurzinger et al. (1991:146, emphasis added)

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…23
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000.
of development NGO s, EU funding may amount for
about half of total funding (55%), often with the
Portuguese government providing another impor-
tant share, in his study about 25%, private funding
being only 20%. There appears to be therefore a
large reliance in foreign and public funding being
a potential source of larger impact but also of
greater dependency. From 1993, the state gave civil
society organisations representatives a voice in the
Social Consortia Council, where together with re-
presentatives of the state, of industrialists, and of
labour unions they discuss societal matters (Ferreira,
1993). This is based mainly on the recognition that
NGO s can be an important vehicle for citizen par-
ticipation. By being close to citizens
NGO s are bet-
ter able to express their need and involve them in
development (Ferreira, 1993).
Portuguese civil society organisations are
seen as responsible to supplement the scarce sta-
te resources, to ensure greater popular participa-
tion in the response to their needs, and to intro-
duce flexibility and innovation in the welfare and
development work (Fernandes et al., 1993). Mo-
reover, civil society organisations greatly contribute
to the strengthening of participatory democracy
(Laureano Santos, 1991).
Fernandes et al. (1993) conducted a resear-
ch on 29 Portuguese nonprofits, with activities in
Lisbon. They had a number of interesting conclu-
sions: the majority of the organisations had acti-
vities in one sector only; there is a dependency on
state funds and consequently the organisations are
managed according to public administration prin-
ciples. Portuguese civil society organisations appear
to be very professionalised. Fernandes et al. (1993)
found in their research that only half of the orga-
nisations interviewed (N=29) had any volunteers.
This excludes volunteer members of the board
which is legally mandatory in Portugal (Fernandes
et al., 1993). The greatest problems from the or-
ganisations’ perspective is the insufficiency of fi-
nancial resources, and the consequent dependency
on state funding, allied to the shortage of adequate
human resources (Fernandes et al., 1993).7.2 Environmental
As for other
NGO s in Portugal, the first period of
NGO s was before 1974 (the Socia-
list revolution). At that time the environmental mo-
vement was almost non-existent in Portugal. Two
reasons are given for that. The first is that the
authoritarian regime effectively eliminated any
associativism, which were openly independent or
confrontational. Second, at the time the Portugue-
se society was relatively closed: there was censor-
ship, information flows were limited, the educa-
tional level low, so that environmental concerns
which appeared in other countries had no echo in
Portugal. Third, environmental problems at the
time were relatively small, given the weak urbani-
sation and industrialisation of the country (Mello
and Pimenta, 1993:147).
The second period is 1974-85. After 1974,
associativism boomed in Portugal. Partly due to the
lack of associative tradition, many associations
during this time had no consistent organisation,
so that environmental
NGO s appeared and disap-
peared at a high rate. In 1977 there was an attempt
by the government to build a nuclear power plant.
Opposing this action represented the single point
of convergence between Portuguese environmen-
talists. Once the government gave up the project
(for economical reasons) the environmental mo-
vement again atomised between internal differen-
ces. The first attempt at unifying and coordinating
the environmental movement took place at the
National Meeting of Environmentalists (1984). As
a result the
NGO s involved in environmental work
got to know each other (Mello and Pimenta.
The third period is between 1986 and 1988.
During these years, the environmental
NGO sector
emerged as an important presence in Portuguese
society. As the political-economic system stabilised,
people were more open to environmental concer-
ns. At the same time the entry into the EU and the
opening to exterior gave those concerns, common
in Europe, a new momentum. In 1987/88 the
European Year for the Environment took place. This
EU action made possible a large consicientisation
campaign about the environment and the funding

Nuno Themudo24
Documentos de discusión sobre el Tercer Sector, Núm. 4, 2000 .
of many environmental NGO s. This initiative was
fundamental for the consolidation of many local
Between 1989 and 1992 the environmen-
tal sector consolidated itself. More National Mee-
tings of the environmental
NGO s led to the crea-
tion of the Portuguese Confederation of
NGO s (Confederacao Portuguesa das
Associacoes de Defesa do Ambiente), which uni-
tes more than half the total
NGO s. The two largest
NGO s, however, did not join the confederation.
Mello and Pimenta (1993:155) think that
“Although still weak and small, by
European standards, there is no doubt
that the environmental movement in Por-
tugal has reached its adulthood, if not its
full maturity”
Today, there are about 200 organisations
concerned with environmental protection (
ENGO structure
There is no academic work on the structure of
environmental or any type of
NGO s in Portugal. This
is a gap in the literature in pressing need for sys-
tematically collected descriptive data.
ENGO environment
General information about the
NGO environment
has been described above, such as the state ge-
neral attitude toward the sector. This data howe-
ver is product of many different writings, which
did not have the objective of describing
NGO envi-
ronment. These studies therefore do not constitute
a systematic look into this topic, only providing
some crude hypotheses for further empirical tes-
The aim of this paper was to demonstrate that
some there are some important unaddressed gaps
in the literature around the research topic. Thesegaps revolve around (1) a lack of systematic des-
criptive data on the environmental
NGO sectors of
Mexico and Portugal and (2) analytical research on
the relation between
NGO structure and environ-
ment. In particular, despite the widely recognised
importance attributed to the institutional environ-
ment and resource dependency in
NGO s there is
little empirical research on their effects on
organisation and the consequent responses of
NGO s. Moreover, our understanding of NGO envi-
ronment has been essentially descriptive with litt-
le analytical development (see Natal, forthcoming).

Organisational environment and NGO structure in Mexico and Portugal:…25
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