Beyond grantmaking: Philanthropic foundations as agents of change

Beyond grantmaking: Philanthropic foundations as agents of change and institutional entrepreneurs

From Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly

Research that focuses on the influence of philanthropic foundations in society is important not only because of foundations’ substantial wealth, but because they also possess the ability to confer cultural legitimacy. Few scholars have analyzed how foundations also leverage social mechanisms to advance and legitimate desired change. This paper provides a rare look into a timely and relevant topic – the role of private philanthropy in shaping public fields, in this case, the field of public education in the United States. It argues that foundations elevated the CMO form through three social mechanisms that operated in conjunction with grantmaking. It reveals how foundations advanced a desired vision of the public schooling system and used their financial resources in combination with social mechanisms, having a far-reaching impact beyond individual grantees that ultimately transformed an entire field.

Abstract

Studies examining the role of philanthropic foundations in advancing social change have primarily focused on the impact of foundations’ financial resources. Few scholars have analyzed how foundations also leverage social mechanisms to advance and legitimate desired change. We conceptualize philanthropic foundations as agents of change known as institutional entrepreneurs to illuminate the social mechanisms they employ in pursuit of institutional change. We study the case of charter schools within the field of U.S. public education, where foundations elevated a new organizational form—the charter management organization—by engaging in three social mechanisms: recombining cultural elements to establish the form, enforcing evaluative frameworks to assess the form, and sponsoring new professionals to populate the form with preferred expertise. We argue that foundations are distinctive due to their ability to simultaneously pursue social mechanisms that are often considered to be the realms of different types of institutional entrepreneurs.

 

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Article details
Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson (2013). Beyond Grantmaking: Philanthropic Foundations as Agents of Change and Institutional Entrepreneurs Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0899764013488836

     
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