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American Foundations

Roles and Contributions

edited by Helmut K. Anheier and David C. Hammack

Publication Year: 2010

Foundations play an essential part in the philanthropic activity that defines so much of American life. No other nation provides its foundations with so much autonomy and freedom of action as does the United States. Liberated both from the daily discipline of the market and from direct control by government, American foundations understandably attract great attention. As David Hammack and Helmut Anheier note in this volume, "Americans have criticized foundations for... their alleged conservatism, liberalism, elitism, radicalism, devotion to religious tradition, hostility to religion —in short, for commitments to causes whose significance can be measured, in part, by the controversies they provoke. Americans have also criticized foundations for ineffectiveness and even foolishness."

Their size alone conveys some sense of the significance of American foundations, whose assets amounted to over $530 billion in 2008 despite a dramatic decline of almost 22 percent in the previous year. And in 2008 foundation grants totaled over $45 billion. But what roles have foundations actually played over time, and what distinctive roles do they fill today? How have they shaped American society, how much difference do they make? What roles are foundations likely to play in the future?

This comprehensive volume, the product of a three-year project supported by the Aspen Institute's program on the Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy, provides the most thorough effort ever to assess the impact and significance of the nation's large foundations. In it, leading researchers explore how foundations have shaped —or failed to shape —each of the key fields of foundation work.

American Foundations takes the reader on a wide-ranging tour, evaluating foundation efforts in education, scientific and medical research, health care, social welfare, international relations, arts and culture, religion, and social change.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v-vii

List of Tables and Figures

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pp. viii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

This volume has benefited from the advice, support, and contributions of many individuals and organizations. We endeavor to acknowledge and thank all of them here. In the ultimate analysis, the coeditors alone are responsible for the final publication...

Part I: Introduction

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1. American Foundations: Their Roles and Contributions to Society

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pp. 3-27

What have independent grant-making foundations contributed to the United States? What roles have foundations played over time, and what distinctive roles—if any—do they fill today? Are new roles for foundations...

Part II: Exploring Roles and Contributions

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2. Foundations and the Making of Public Education in the United States, 1867–1950

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pp. 31-50

Public education was one of the early forms of American social provision.1 Indeed, by the mid-nineteenth century primary education was fully institutionalized as a state responsibility in most of the country.2 Once established, public responsibility for American schooling continued to expand; public high...

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3. Catalysts for Change? Foundations and School Reform, 1950–2005

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pp. 51-72

From the early nineteenth century through World War II, American foundations developed a varied repertoire of strategies, beginning with a model of the foundation as charity and later expanded to include conditional giving, otherwise known as partial succor, to leverage additional support and the “outsider...

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4. The Partnerships of Foundations and Research Universities

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pp. 73-97

In 2005 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching celebrated its centennial with worry. One of the great exemplars of the impact of scientific philanthropy on education, the foundation found itself questioning whether foundations could any longer have a productive role in the...

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5. Foundations and Higher Education

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pp. 98-119

American philanthropic foundations have a long history of supporting higher education. It is a domain in which foundations have focused tremendous resources over time.1 Although foundation dollars make up only a small part of higher education revenues, they constitute more than a quarter of all foundation...

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6. Foundations and Health: Innovation, Marginalization, and Relevance since 1900

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pp. 120-140

The ideas, political skills, and cash of the donors, directors, and staff of American philanthropic foundations have affected the health status of millions of people during the past century. Foundations in health have innovated and temporized. They have sustained some organizations, promoted radical...

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7. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 7. Efforts to Improve Health and Health Care for All Americans

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pp. 141-157

In 1972 a small local foundation that had been doing limited grant making in the New Brunswick, New Jersey, area became the nation’s second largest foundation, with an endowment of $1.2 billion from the estate of Robert Wood Johnson, a former president of Johnson and Johnson. The Robert Wood...

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8. Foundations and Social Welfare in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 158-181

Foundations have been involved with a diverse group of programs and services referred to by a variety of terms, including social welfare services, welfare services, social services, and human services. The term social welfare has been the most widely used over the twentieth century, although its specific definition has...

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9. The Role of Foundations in Shaping Social Welfare Policy and Services: The Case of Welfare Reform

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pp. 182-204

Foundations play a key but often overlooked role in influencing and implementing social welfare policy. They shape knowledge and preferences for policy solutions by funding specific kinds of research, driving community development initiatives, and supporting selected forms of social services. Strategic...

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10. The State and International Philanthropy: The Contribution of American Foundations, 1919–1991

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pp. 205-236

The historian Eric Hobsbawm has called the period from the end of World War I to the end of the cold war the “short twentieth century.”1 At the start of the period covered here, few professionally staffed, multipurpose foundations of any kind existed. Beginning with the interwar period, however, private...

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11. For the World’s Sake: U.S. Foundations and International Grant Making, 1990–2002

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pp. 237-261

The last decade of the twentieth century and the first few years of this new century have been marked by significant global changes. The move to more open societies marked symbolically by the fall of the Berlin Wall and animated by widespread democratization movements presented foundations with new...

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12. Foundations as Cultural Actors

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pp. 262-282

America’s largest foundations arrived late on the cultural scene.1 When the major philanthropic enterprises of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Sage, Harkness, and Rosenwald got under way in the years around 1900, their principal focus was on medicine, public health, education, and social science. Long before these...

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13. Roles of Foundations and Their Impact in the Arts

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pp. 283-304

In 1957 the Ford Foundation, soon to be followed by other private foundations, launched an arts program aimed at leveraging new forms of support for the arts, establishing the arts as a legitimate recipient of public funds and a relevant policy issue.1 In a way, Ford’s program was a reaction to the rapid growth of...

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14. The Role of Foundations in American Religion

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pp. 305-327

Although American religion has been studied extensively, little attention has been paid to its financial underpinnings until recently, and even less has been devoted to understanding its relationships with foundations.1 Given the larger neglect of religion in sociological treatments of nonprofit organizations, it...

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15. Foundations, Social Movements, and the Contradictions of Liberal Philanthropy

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pp. 328-346

Few issues in the history of organized philanthropy have been as fraught with conflict, controversy, and apparent contradiction as the role of foundations in movements for equal rights, social justice, and political democracy in the twentieth-century United States. Foundations, after all, have been subject...

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16. Consolidating Social Change: The Consequences of Foundation Funding for Developing Social Movement Infrastructures

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pp. 347-367

The crux of the dilemma regarding social movement philanthropy is that despite expressed good intentions, foundation funding for social movements is thought to be inherently conservative, channeling movement groups in more moderate directions with the consequence that social dissent is...

Part III: Conclusion

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17. Foundations and Public Policy

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pp. 371-387

The broad restructuring of the American state, together with the evolution of public policy toward foundations and the nonprofit sector in general, are changing the capacity of foundations to support policy reform, innovation, and social change. Foundations operate in an increasingly complex environment that...

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18. Looking Forward: American Foundations between Continuity and Change

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pp. 388-402

Over their long history, American foundations have created a considerable list of positive contributions to society, as the contributors to this book have shown. Foundations have also had a long time in which to record controversy, false starts, inconsistency, disappointment, futility, and sometimes...

Appendix A

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pp. 403-404

Appendix B and C

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pp. 405-407


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pp. 409-436


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pp. 437-438


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pp. 439-457

E-ISBN-13: 9780815704577
E-ISBN-10: 0815704577

Page Count: 457
Publication Year: 2010