Organizational Communication in the Third Sector - Management ...

Organizational Communication in the Third Sector - Management ...

Management Communication


Organizational Communication in the Third Sector: An Alternative


Cicilia M. Krohling Peruzzo

Management Communication Quarterly published online 9 March 2009

DOI: 10.1177/0893318909332277

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Management Communication Quarterly OnlineFirst, published on March 9, 2009 as




in the Third Sector

An Alternative Perspective

Cicilia M. Krohling Peruzzo

Universidade Metodista de São Paulo


Communication Quarterly

Volume XX Number X

Month XXXX xx-xx

© 2009 SAge Publications


hosted at

Brazilian society is marked by profound contradictions. These contradictions

contribute to the rise of social movements and to autonomous

civil organizations that advocate for the needs and claims of the poor who

are subjected to conditions of oppression. Through these dynamics, such

organizations forge their own communication processes and become alternative

sites for the study and practice of organizational communication.

This essay focuses on communication processes in the third sector, an arena

aimed at social transformation and the exercise of citizenship. Drawn from

bibliographic research, this essay examines an alternative perspective for

the study and practice of organizational communication.

In the 1970s, amid the harsh military dictatorship in Brazil, social movements

and other civil society organizations began to mobilize against

political control, degrading living conditions, and the disrespect of human

rights evident at that time. 1 During the years of this authoritarian military

regime (1964–1984), democracy was banned and political opponents faced

imprisonment, execution, and exile. The government monitored individual

and collective freedoms and censured the mass media. Working-class salaries

failed to cover basic family needs, including housing, day care, health,

and education. Civil society slowly became conscious of the situation and

began to mobilize for the right to participate politically and to overcome

social antagonisms.

Alternative nonprofit, community-based organizations grew out of this

context. At the same time, existing institutions, such as the church, engaged

in the social battle by supporting civil causes, working to solve problems that

affected people’s daily lives, and finding ways to broaden the rights of citizenship.

These initiatives formed what is known as “the third sector,” or

“private, non-governmental, non-lucrative, voluntary association organizations”

(Acotto & Manzur, cited in Montaño, 2002, p. 55). Third sector

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2 Management Communication Quarterly

organizations, such as NgOs, institutes, community associations, social

movements, foundations, and philanthropic institutions, were configured

as private but developed a public character that operated in the collective


Unlike the state which forms the first sector and the market which constitutes

the second sector, third sector organizations operate in nonprofit

and nongovernmental arenas that function outside the “laws” of profitability.

In contrast to the first and second sectors, the goals and communication

processes of third sector organizations are driven by political and ideological

values and the diverse intentions of actors. In effect, third sector organizations

are an important avenue for civil action, and they also engage in

public–private partnerships. In 2004, Brazil had 276,000 nonprofit private

institutions. 2 Moreover, private foundations and nonprofit associations

employed 1.5 million people and paid approximately $10 billion in salaries

and other remunerations. 3

Essential Considerations for the Third Sector

Organizational communication,” in the third sector, 4 does not have a

single meaning. These different connotations occur in work-related settings as

well as in social movements, community associations, nongovernmental

organizations, and other nonprofit institutions. They differ from the approaches

that characterize business corporations, governments, and other institutions

outside the third sector.

From the perspective of community associations, new principles structure

the practices and concepts of communication. Communication in

third sector organizations focuses on social action and human development

on behalf of the community and provides an alternative to traditional

professional practice. What is at stake is the broadening of the

rights and duties of citizenship and not the fulfillment of business and

governmental interests. These principles do not replace traditional organizational

communication, although they require some conceptual and practical

revision of training in this area.

In this way, the goals and practices of third sector organizations come

together to support changes in the public interest. According to Peter

Drucker (2001), nonprofit organizations are agents of human change whose

goals can be a healed patient, a child who learns, or a young person who

develops into an adult with self-respect. In Brazilian and Latin American

societies, the third sector’s objectives are to keep a child off the streets and

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Peruzzo / Organizational Communication in the Third Sector 3

away from drug traffic and forced labor and to guarantee this child a comfortable

bed and the right to play and attend school. In addition to helping

children, third sector associations strive to end all forms of violence, to

preserve or restore the environment, to respect the rights of each and every

human being, and to help human beings achieve their potential through

being involved in active intervention for change. According to Pedro Demo

(1988), citizenship is an accomplishment. It is never a concession by the

rulers. Only social pressure causes its quality to increase, and third sector

organizations focus on exerting this social pressure.

even though third sector organizations are not homogeneous (Peruzzo,

2007), they share a goal, which is to promote changes that place a premium

on human development. Therefore, their strategies also change, based on

what the organization wants to accomplish. In the process of promoting

social transformations, third sector organizations use certain tactics to

stimulate active participation of citizens and facilitate personal involvement

and self-emancipation aimed at building a more egalitarian society. Citizen

participation in the role of the protagonists is fundamental in achieving the

proposed changes.

The modus operandi of organizational communication, public relations,

journalism, and other communication specialties also changes during this

transformation. Professional practice requires a facilitation approach and a

commitment to participative processes that extend beyond empowering

citizens with technical abilities, which are usually under the authority of

specialists. Mobilizing communication, such as forming relationships with

the beneficiary public, is developed from the group’s demands and presupposes

respect for the movement’s internal and collective dynamics as well

as for the public in question. It is not simply about listening to the public to

better adapt to their interests in the way that companies do, but it focuses

on meeting the public’s needs. In contrast, institutional communication,

directed to external publics, aims to influence the public’s impressions and

to shape a favorable organizational reputation. Moreover, traditional institutional

communication does not just serve an organization’s interests;

rather, it occupies a political space in developing the collective cultural and

societal hegemony.

Therefore, with this new model, a communication professional who

serves foundations, business corporations, governmental institutions, or

philanthropic agencies and has an interest in promoting change will move

beyond creating marketing strategies and will develop skills in listening and

incorporating citizen input in this social change effort. In working as a professional

or a voluntary member of a social movement, the communication

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4 Management Communication Quarterly

professional needs to support the social actors in question and be in harmony

with the causes that motivate them. In effect, the organizational communication

specialist, who works within the third sector, is not someone who enters

from outside the system to control it but rather a professional who works

within the dynamics of the represented groups, respects them, and allows the

thoughts, knowledge, and decisions to emerge from them.

Specifically, in the third sector, the making of a social movement’s home

page or newsletter, the creation of a video, and the development of educational

campaign materials are not primarily based on the communication

professional’s competence. With this model, the collective arrives at the

appropriate course of action for each situation. It is not simply mastering

techniques that only the professionals feel are right. In other words, communication

at this level occurs within an organization’s broad sphere of

practice, not from the intervention of an external party or the actions of a

specialist in isolation. 5 It stems from a holistic framework and a multidisciplinary

perspective for mobilizing organizational practices. Interpersonal,

group, and technological communication (radio, video, etc.) work together,

and the subfields of public relations, journalism, advertising, and organizational

communication interconnect and complement each other.

In the third sector, the main beneficiary is the public, and communication

aims to fulfill the interests and needs of the other; working on behalf of the

public is the organization’s “reason for being” rather than serving the narrow

needs of the institution itself. This is why NgOs, associations, and social

movements in Brazil place a high priority on communication with the public

rather than on the organizational communication from the institution.

Prioritizing Communication for Mobilization

Organizational communication in the third sector involves two levels:

(a) using direct interaction to mobilize the public(s) and interconnecting to

develop concrete actions for promoting citizenship and (b) providing institutional

messages to the public aimed at building the reputation, image, and

political ideology of a particular organization. These two levels are very different

spheres, even though a relationship exists between them. In the first

level, communication professionals develop the interactive processes and

pedagogical materials (e.g., video clips, radio and television programs, educational

campaigns, face-to-face contacts, newsletters, sign-in forms, blogs,

cordels [a type of popular poetry], etc.) needed to work with an organization’s

beneficiary public. Communication is more strongly developed at this level

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Peruzzo / Organizational Communication in the Third Sector 5

than at the second level because of the necessity to carry out an organization’s

objectives of contributing to social change. At the second level, practitioners

create communication channels (e.g., Web sites, letters, memos, flyers, photographs,

petitions, documentaries, press releases, videos, press kits, reports, and

projects) to spread information and to externalize demands and justifications.

Third sector organizations also enact self-managed systems that stem

from the history and development of social movements. As a result of these

dynamics, leaders typically form direct relationships with their publics and

decide, sometimes with the aid of volunteers, on communication materials

in accordance with their needs for expression and mobilization. exceptions

to this pattern are found in unions, well-structured social movements, and

large NgOs that are financially strong and usually aim to communicate

with society as a whole. These types of organizations typically hire communication

professionals, especially journalists, to mobilize the public.

Recent discussions raise the question of “professionalizing” this type of

communication practice. Although many scholars are in favor of it, the idea

has clear political implications. Not all professionals meet the requirements

for this type of organization, in their academic backgrounds, their training

for the market, or their own ideological choices. The conceptual foundations

described in this article underscore the importance of a new model for

practitioners who work in the third sector in order to contribute effectively

to social change.

Trends in the Research

Research on organizational communication in the third sector reveals

four main threads. The first, and most prominent, highlights the advantages

of communication in this arena, along with offering recommendations for

ways to improve communication, especially public relations, in shaping an

organization’s social role and in connecting with allies (see Kunsch, 2003;

Oliveira, 2002). This thread also includes demonstrating ways that companies

can address social responsibilities and enhance corporate identity. A

second research thread reveals that NgOs and social movement groups tend

to underuse communication as a way of making themselves visible (Castro

& Mendonça, 2003; Menezes, 2005; Piccin, 2005). It argues for adding the

second level of communication practices in these organizations.

The third thread examines the “way of doing” and the applicability of

organizational communication to social movements and nonprofit organizations,

based on the particularities of this arena (Meneghetti, 2001). A fourth

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6 Management Communication Quarterly

thread is starting to develop (Cesar, 1999; Henriques, Braga, Silva, & Mafra,

2004; Mafra, 2006; Peruzzo, 1993, 2004, 2007, 2008). This thread, as exemplified

in this article, examines the type of communication that third sector

organizations produce within a broad political context and with efforts to

mobilize social change.


This article contends that theoretical principles and traditional organizational

communication practices developed for businesses and governmental

institutions in Brazil cannot be simply transferred and reproduced in third

sector organizations, especially in nonprofits and social movements aimed

at mobilizing social change. Communication in this arena stems from a set

of premises and actions aimed at changing people’s lives as well as establishing

and facilitating the relationship among organizations, their publics,

and society at large.


1. These collectives fought for access to land and housing, improvements in public transportation

and health care, protection of the environment, respect for the rights of women,

protection of children, and political amnesty (gohn, 2004).

2. These organizations often share the same volunteers, are both autonomous and private,

and are made up of citizens who gather freely around common objectives. In contrast,

market-oriented and government-regulated associations are ones that have a specific jurisdictional

structure, such as political organizations, unions, and consortiums (Sistema de Apoio

Institucional, 2004).

3. These figures are from the System for Institutional Support of the Brazilian Institute of

geography and Statistics. Complete data are available at

4. This is also valid for community public relations.

5. However, there are situations (e.g., in certain large NgOs) where specialists are hired or

firms are contracted.


Castro, g. L. de, & Mendonça, M. L. M. de. (2003, September 5). Comunicação no terceiro

setor: Tendências e desafios [Communication in the third sector: Tendencies and challenges].

Paper presented at the 26th Brazilian Intercom Congress of Sciences of

Communication, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Cesar, R. C. e. (1999). As relações públicas frente ao desenvolvimento comunitário [The public

relations versus community development]. Comunicação e Sociedade, 32, 89-112.

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Peruzzo / Organizational Communication in the Third Sector 7

Demo, P. (1988). Participação é conquista [Participation is achievement]. São Paulo, Brazil:


Drucker, P. F. (2001). Administração de organizações sem fins lucrativos: Princípios e práticas

[Administration of non-profit organizations: Principles and practices]. São Paulo, Brazil:


gohn, M. g. (2004). Teorias dos movimentos sociais [Theories of social movements]. São

Paulo, Brazil: Loyola.

Henriques, M. S., Braga, C. S., Silva, D. B. C., & Mafra, R. L. M. (2004). Relações públicas em

projetos de mobilização social: Funções e características [Public relations in the social mobilization

projects: Functions and characteristics]. In M. S. Henriques (ed.), Comunicação e

estratégias de mobilização sócia (2nd ed., pp. 17-32). Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Autêntica.

Kunsch, M. M. K. (2003). Planejamento de relações públicas na comunicação integrada

[Planning of public relations integrated communication] (4th ed.). São Paulo, Brazil:


Mafra, R. (2006). Entre o espetáculo, a festa e a argumentação: Mídia comunicação

[Between the spectacle, the party and the argumentation: Media communication]. Belo

Horizonte, Brazil: Autêntica.

Meneghetti, S. B. (2001). Comunicação e marketing: Fazendo a diferença no dia-a-dia de

organizações da sociedade civil [Communication and marketing: Making the difference in

the day by day of civil society organizations]. São Paulo, Brazil: global/Instituto Fonte.

Menezes, D. (2005, July 1-30). Comunicação nas ONGs: luxo ou necessidade [Communication

in the nongovernmental organizations: Luxury or necessity]. Paper presented at the 2nd

CONVICOM conference, São Paulo, Brazil. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from http://www.

Montaño, Carlos. (2002). Terceiro setor e questão social: Crítica ao padrão emergente de

intervenção social [Third sector and social matter criticism to the emergent standard of

social intervention]. São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez.

Oliveira, F. R. M. de. (2002). Relações públicas e a comunicação na empresa cidadã

[Public relations and the communication in the “citzens” companies]. In Responsabilidade

social das empresas. Prêmio ethos—Valor (pp. 195-228). São Paulo, Brazil: Peirópolis,

Peruzzo, C. M. K. (1993). Relações públicas, movimentos populares e transformação social

[Public relations, social movements and social change]. Revista Brasileira de Comunicação,

16(2), 125-133. Retrieved September 20, 2008, from

Peruzzo, C. M. K. (2004). Relações públicas no modo de produção capitalista [Public relations

in the capitalist production system] (4th ed.). São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez.

Peruzzo, C. M. K. (2007). Comunicação e terceiro setor [Communication and third sector]. In

J. Duarte (ed.), Comunicação pública: Estado, mercado, sociedade e interesse público

(pp. 154-173). São Paulo, Brazil: Atlas.

Peruzzo, C. M. K. (2008). Relações públicas nos movimentos sociais e “comunidades”: Princípios,

estratégias e atividades [Public relations in the social movements and communities:

Principles, strategies and activities]. São Paulo: Prelo.

Piccin, P. (2005, July). A importância da comunicação em organizações não-governamentais [The

importance of the communication in non-profit organizations]. Paper Presented at the 2nd

CONVICOM conference, São Paulo, Brazil. Retrieved September 15, 2006, from http://

Sistema de Apoio Institucional. (2004). Terceiro setor emprega 1,5 milhão de pessoas

(Pesquisa do IBge/IPeA/ABONg) [Third sector employs 1.5 million people (Research of

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8 Management Communication Quarterly

IBge/IPeA/ABONg)]. Retrieved October 14, 2006, fromícia/


Cicilia M. Krohling Peruzzo (Doctoral Degree, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, 1991) is

a full professor in the graduate Program in Social Communication at the Universidade

Metodista de São Paulo, Brazil. Her main research interests include communication in social

movements, participative communication, alternative public relations, and organizational

communication in the third sector.

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