The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 307–334 | Cite as

The choice among aid donors: The effects of multilateral vs. bilateral aid on recipient behavioral support

  • Michael G. FindleyEmail author
  • Helen V. Milner
  • Daniel L. Nielson


Scholars studying foreign assistance differ over whether multilateral aid is preferable to bilateral aid for promoting development, but nearly all build their cases primarily on highly aggregated cross-national time-series data. We investigate this topic experimentally from the perspective of those whom the foreign aid directly affects: recipient citizens and elites. We thus report results of a survey experiment with behavioral outcomes on more than 3000 Ugandan citizens and over 300 members of Uganda’s Parliament. In spite of a large literature suggesting differences, the findings generally reveal few substantive differences in citizens’ and elites’ preferences and behavior toward the two types of aid. While no strong pattern of differences emerges, limited evidence suggests that the public evinces greater trust in multilateral institutions, and both masses and elites feel that multilateral aid is more transparent. Overall, these null results inform an ever-expanding literature, which is increasingly articulating distinctions between multilateral and bilateral aid. At least in the minds of the recipients, however, multilateral and bilateral aid may not in fact be all that different. This accords with the literature noting the strong overlap in aid organizations and bemoaning the fact that they do not specialize more. Our results raise the question about why have both multilateral and bilateral aid donors if they in effect do the same thing.


Foreign aid Experiments Foreign donors International organizations 

JEL classifications

F35 F53 C93 C83 



We thank the editors and reviewers for valuable feedback as well as Pulapre Balakrishna, Kate Baldwin, Chris Blattman, Thad Dunning, Guy Grossman, Josh Gubler, Saad Gulzar, Jude Hayes, Darren Hawkins, Macartan Humphreys, Susan Hyde, Evan Lieberman, Robert Keohane, Kosuke Imai, Quinn Mecham, Scott Morgenstern, Kevin Morrison, Paul Poast, Dan Posner, Jessica Preece, Pia Raffler, Joel Selway, Dustin Tingley, Mike Tomz, and Jeremy Weinstein for their very helpful comments. Torben Behmer, Peter Carroll, Colby Clabaugh, Maddy Gleave, Raymond Hicks, Carlo Horz, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Brandon Miller de la Cuesta, and Elizabeth Nugent also provided invaluable research assistance.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael G. Findley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Helen V. Milner
    • 2
  • Daniel L. Nielson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of PoliticsPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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