International financial law institutions struggle to confront financial crises effectively and flexibly, playing the role of both regulator and rescuer. At the same time these institutions confront demands for greater legitimacy in light of the public policy implications of their actions. Some might argue that greater participation by civil society may serve to foster greater legitimacy by improving representativeness, transparency, accountability, and reasoned decision making. But greater civil society access also has costs that can undermine both regulation and rescue efforts. I argue that we should not take it as a given that greater civil society participation lends greater legitimacy to international financial institutions. Rather we should examine various types of civil society contributions at various stages and attempt to identify when and what kind of participation would be most helpful in light of the role played by the different institutions involved. As a general rule and subject to certain caveats, civil society groups whose mission is closely related to interests affected by the institutions’ actions could contribute more to policy setting institutions while civil society groups with a high degree of expertise should be more involved with institutions when they are performing detailed rule making functions.