Call for papers to the Special Issue “The Quest for Sustainable Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): The Triple Bottom Line Approach”

The Guest Editors of the Special Issue “The Quest for Sustainable Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): The Triple Bottom Line Approach” are inviting for submissions. Manuscripts should be submitted online until 31st March 2022.

The Special Issue will be published in the Journal Sustainability – section Sustainable Management -, an international, interdisciplinary, academic, peer-reviewed and open-access journal on environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability, with an impact factor of 2.576, indexed on the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index (Web of Science platforms) and Scopus.

Dear Colleagues,

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are autonomous organizations or institutions whose main purpose is to volunteer in civil society to counter the failures of the state (Santos, 2012; Soares and Melo, 2010). NGOs need to manage their resources efficiently in order to survive (Curado, Henriques, Oliveira and Martins, 2021). NGOs are settings that allow meeting complementary objectives: individual ones (self-realization) and social ones (satisfaction and responsibility) (Burlamaqui and Rodriguez, 2013). Such an approach emphasizes sustainability because it requires a match of resources: funding, new partnerships, sources of revenue, professional human resources, and evaluation and control systems (Junior, Faria, and Fontenele, 2009). We believe that organizational sustainable development goal attendance demands the use of innovation (Muñoz-Pascual, Curado and Galende, 2019), which similarly applies to NGOs.

NGOs experiment in innovative ways (Marteleto and Ribeiro, 2001). One of the key issues to ensure sustainable development concerns the interrelated relationship between organizations’ innovation dynamics and sustainability. Sustainability challenges are a source of inspiration for novel innovative trajectories (Muñoz-Pascual, Curado and Galende, 2019). NGOs face huge financial challenges such as uncertainty and lack of stability (Phillips and Hebb, 2010). Human resources (HR) volunteering at ONGs ha a specific profile (Reed and Selbee, 2000; 2002) and hold a contractual link with organizations that is quite different from the professional bonds in other industries (Oliver and Kandadi, 2006; Ragsdell, 2013). Employer branding strategy (Cascio and Graham, 2016), the associated HRM practices (Joo & Mclean, 2006), and marketing communications (Elving et al., 2013) may help NGOs in their search for HR. As a consequence, NGOs have particular structural constraints (Webster and Wong, 2008). Nevertheless, we believe that the triple bottom line approach seems to be appropriate to address the sustainability challenge NGOs face.

Since the 2005 world summit on social development, societies have been expected to design their growth strategies according to the three main sustainable development goals, i.e., economic development, social inclusion, and environmental protection, which reflect the three pillars of the triple bottom line approach characterizing sustainable organizational development (Cohen, Smith, and Mitchell, 2008; Glavas and Mish, 2015). In recent years, one of the key topics tackled by the sustainable development discourse concerns the interrelated relationship between organizations’ innovation dynamics and sustainability. Indeed, the development and diffusion of sustainable innovations by organizations have been deemed necessary conditions for the successful application of the triple bottom line approach, thus favoring social and environmental responsiveness while boosting economic growth (Dibrel, Craig, Kim, and Johnson, 2015). Accordingly, sustainable innovations represent a means through which organizations can actually foster sustainable development (Kennedy and Marting, 2016). At the same time, current sustainability challenges can become a source of inspiration for novel innovative trajectories, which may enhance organizations’ competitiveness and contribute to the construction of a better society (Wagner, 2009). However, academics have noticed that more than 20 years after sustainable development was first conceptualized, the triple bottom line approach is far from being the dominant business model for organizations (Hall and Wagner, 2012; Schaltegger, Hansen and Lüdeke-Freund, 2016). Furthermore, most organizations’ innovation efforts focus on only one development goal at a time, and research has yet to provide an in-depth discussion on how to reconcile the three sustainability pillars in innovation dynamics (Hart and Milstein, 2003; Longoni and Cagliano, 2018). In addition, NGOs must have a higher level of awareness when basing their non-profit activity not only on the development of one or more causes but also on the social, environmental, and economic improvement of their environment.

The previous arguments emphasize the relevance of responding to the existing gap on research to fully comprehend the interrelated nature of NGO innovation dynamics and sustainability. NGOs’ performance relies on different stakeholders and the willingness of several social actors. Thus, a diversity of contributors play numerous roles in building the sustainability riddle. Given the complexity of social phenomena, we encourage interdisciplinary thinking. Rigorous and relevant research demands the use of various research methods to better enlighten the rationale, relationships, and causality of sources that guarantee NGO sustainability.

With this Special Issue, we wish to contribute to a better understanding of the sources of sustainability in NGOs. Thus, the main objective of this Special Issue is to approach the involved topics with new perspectives and methods in order to provide clear evidence from NGOs’ realities. Empirical studies reporting unique, systematic, innovative, and integrative research are targeted in this Special Issue. Bibliometric, systematic, and content literature review analyses are also requested. Both theoretical and empirical approaches are accepted. Submissions of empirical studies using either quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods analyses are most welcome. Obviously, there is a lot to research on and an immensity of opportunities to focus on, yet we would like to propose, among other possible ones, the following research questions:

  • What are the contextual pressures that influence NGOs’ sustainability?
  • What are the internal contingencies that influence the implementation of the triple bottom line approach in NGOs?
  • How do NGOs provide a space for reconciling individual and social objectives?
  • What are the contributions of economic, social, and environmental dimensions for NGO innovation performance?
  • What is the appropriate balance among the economic, social, and environmental dimensions for an optimal innovation performance in NGOs?
  • What are the governance mechanisms to ensure an effective use of the triple bottom line approach in NGOs?
  • What are the most adequate strategic control systems to motorize the triple bottom line use in NGOs?
  • What are the most sustainable social entrepreneurship models for NGOs?


Burlamaqui, A., & Rodriguez, M. (2013). A arte de compartilhar práticas e experiências no terceiro setor: Um estudo de caso. IX Congresso Nacional de Excelência em Gestão, ISSN 1984–9354, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Cascio, W. F., & Graham, B. Z. (2016). New Strategic Role for HR: Leading the Employer-Branding Process. Organization Management Journal, 13(4), 182–192.

Cohen, B., Smith, B., & Mitchell, R. (2008). Toward a Sustainable Conceptualization of Dependent Variables in Entrepreneurship Research. Business Strategy and the Environment, 17, 107–119.

Curado, C., Henriques, P., Oliveira, M., & Martins, R. (2021). Antecedents of knowledge sharing in NGOs: The role of organizational culture, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, (forthcoming),

Dibrell, C., Craig, J.B., Kim, J., & Johnson, A.J. (2015). Establishing How Natural Environmental Competency,

Organizational Social Consciousness, and Innovativeness Relate. Journal of Business Ethics, 127, 591–605.

Elving, W. J. L., Westhoff, J. J. C., Meeusen, K., & Schoonderbeek, J. W. (2013). The war for talent the relevance of employer branding in job advertisements for becoming an employer of choice. Journal of Brand Management, 20(5), 355–373.

Glavas, A., & Mish, J. (2015). Resources and Capabilities of Triple Bottom Line Firms: Going over Old or Breaking New Ground? Journal of Business Ethics, 127, 623–642.

Hall, J., & Wagner, M. (2012). Integrating Sustainability into Firms’ Processes: Performance Effects and the Moderating Role of Business Models and Innovation. Business Strategy and the Environment, 21, 183–196.

Hart, S.L., & Milstein, M.B. (2003). Creating Sustainable Value. Academy of Management Executive, 17, 56–67.

Joo, B. K. B., & Mclean, G. N. (2006). Best Employer Studies: A Conceptual Model from a Literature Review and a Case Study. Human Resource Development Review, 5(2), 228–257.

Junior, M., Faria, M., & Fontenele, R. (2009). Gestão nas organizações do terceiro setor: Contribuição para um novo paradigma nos empreendimentos sociais. XXXIII Encontro da ANPAD, ANPAD. São Paulo, Brazil.

Kennedy, E.B., & Marting, T.A. (2016). Biomimicry Streamlining the Front End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products. Research-Technology Management,  59, 40–47.

Longoni, A., & Cagliano, R. (2018). Sustainable Innovativeness and the Triple Bottom Line: The Role of Organizational Time Perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 151, 1097–1120.

Marteleto, R., & Ribeiro, L. (2001). Informação e construção do conhecimento para a cidadania no terceiro setor. UFPb, Paraíba, Brazil.

Muñoz-Pascual, L., Curado, C., & Galende, J. (2019). The Triple Bottom Line on Sustainable Product Innovation Performance in SMEs: A Mixed Methods Approach, Sustainability, 11(6), 1689,

Oliver, S., & Kandadi, K. (2006). How to develop knowledge culture in organizations? A multiple case study of large distributed organizations. Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(4), 6 – 24.

Phillips, S., &Hebb, T. (2010). Financing the third sector: Introduction. Policy and Society, 29(3), 181‐187.

Ragsdell, G. (2013). Voluntary Sector Organizations: Untapped Sources of Lessons for Knowledge Management, In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning (ICICKM-2013), Washington, DC, USA. 349-354.

Reed, P., & Selbee, K. (2002). Volunteers are not all the same: Heterogeneity in the voluntary sector, Presentation at 31st ARNOVA Annual Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Santos, S. (2012) Organização do terceiro setor. 1ª Edição, Livro-texto EaD, EdUnP. Natal, Brazil.

Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E.G., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016). Business Models for Sustainability: Origins, Present Research, and Future Avenues. Organization & Environment, 29, 3–10.

Soares, A., & Melo, M. (2010) Gestão do terceiro setor: Uma prática social? Revista de Gestão USP, 17(1), 1–11.

Wagner, M. (2009). Innovation and Competitive Advantages from the Integration of Strategic Aspects with Social and Environmental Management in European Firms. Business Strategy and the Environment, 18, 291–306.

Webster, J., & Wong, W. (2008). Comparing traditional and virtual group forms:  identity, communication and trust in naturally occurring project teams. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(1), 41‐62.

Prof. Dr. Carla Maria Marques Curado
Prof. Dr. Jesús Galende del Canto
Prof. Dr. Lucía Muñoz Pascual
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI’s English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Carla Maria Marques Curado
Guest Editor
Department of Management, ISEG – Lisbon School of Economics & Management, University of Lisbon, 1249-078 Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: knowledge management; human resource management and organizational behavior
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Prof. Dr. Jesús Galende del Canto
Guest Editor
Multidisciplinary Institute for Enterprise (IME), Department of Business Administration and Management, Universidad de Salamanca, 37007 Salamanca, Spain
Interests: innovation; sustainability; human resources; management

Prof. Dr. Lucía Muñoz Pascual
Guest Editor
Multidisciplinary Institute for Enterprise (IME), Department of Business Administration and Management, Universidad de Salamanca, 37007 Salamanca, Spain
Interests: human resources; innovation; sustainability; management and mixed methods

Learn more on this call for papers, here


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