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This study illuminates how a cross-sector social partnership legitimizes itself toward multiple internal and external stakeholders. Within a single-case study design, we collected retrospective and real time data on the partnership between Deutsche Post DHL and The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Within this partnership, Deutsche Post DHL provides corporate volunteers that support disaster response after natural disasters on a pro bono basis. The main objects that needed legitimacy as well as the audiences from which legitimacy was mainly sought changed over time. In addition, we identified legitimation work as occurring across objects, audiences, and time. Thus, we introduce legitimation work as the purposeful effort of the legitimacy seeker to avoid certain issues while ensuring other issues that are of importance to the conferrer of legitimacy. These findings contribute to micro-level considerations within institutional theory which view legitimacy as socially constructed between legitimacy seeker and conferrer. Hence, we add another perspective on legitimation to the previously existing conceptualizations of legitimacy as a deterministic consequence of institutionalization.
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