Building institutional legitimacy in impact investing: Strategies and gaps in financial communication and discourse

Othmar M. Lehner, Theresia Harrer*, Madeleine Quast

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Impact investing denominates an investment logic that combines social and environmental goals, financial returns as well as personal values. The purpose of this paper is to consider the concept of legitimacy to be an appropriate way to understand how actors in the impact investing market influence discourse in order to overcome the inherent liability of newness – based on hybrid institutional logics – through their financial and non-financial communication.
Design/methodology/approach: Based on two theoretically defined sets of codes, a thematic discourse analysis is conducted by analysing meaningful units derived from documents produced by case-selected actors in the impact investing industry, which are then categorised into rhetorical strategies for legitimacy building.
Findings: The paper finds that actors use diverse legitimisation strategies based on their relative positioning in the impact investing market. These strategies determine the actors’ main discursive foci and, in turn, are affected by the overall organisational activities, governance and mission. This study proposes and discusses eight legitimacy creating strategies of relevant archetypes of impact investing actors in their financial and non-financial communication. Following these interconnected discursive engagements, a communication gap can be demonstrated between investors, intermediaries and social entrepreneurs.
Originality/value: Such discursive engagement gaps can provide a theoretical lens to explain the almost non-functional market and, as practical implications, show the need for convergence and harmonisation in financial and non-financial reports and communiques. This research further contributes to theory by providing insights into the discursive creation of legitimacy, and by promoting a better understanding of the emerging field of impact investing.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalJournal of Applied Accounting Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)416-438
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 09.12.2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • Communication
  • Discourse
  • Impact investing
  • Impact reporting
  • Legitimacy
  • 512 Business and Management

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Financial management, accounting, and governance


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