Interest in collaboration between government and private, grantmaking foundations has grown considerably in recent years both in the USA and abroad. In the USA, one outcome of the increased interest has been the emergence of liaison offices in federal agencies tasked with facilitating partnerships between government and grantmaking foundations and others, such as corporate philanthropic programs. As the government/foundation relationship is still under-conceptualized, we propose a framework that extends general government/nonprofit relationship typologies to grantmaking foundations and present empirical evidence on the foundation roles that government liaison officers prioritize in developing partnerships with their foundation counterparts. Empirically, the article is based on semi-structured interviews with these officers in U.S. federal cabinet departments and independent agencies. Having foundation funding substitute for government outlays factors heavily for government liaison staff. At the same time, the role of foundations in seeding government innovation plays a relatively modest role, despite the prominence of the foundation innovation role in the literature. Rather than having government scale foundation-identified innovations, government liaison officers emphasize foundations funding support services that provide access to or enhance government programs and foundations providing expertise to help co-design better government programs.
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Although foundations are generally small in numbers compared to the overall nonprofit sector, they nevertheless exhibit a level of institutional diversity with significant variations across countries and regions (Rey-Garcia, 2020; Toepler, 1999a), making cross-nationally valid typologies inherently complex (Jung, Harow and Leat, 2018). Accordingly, how foundations relate to government depends on, and varies by, foundation type. Operating foundations, for example, are conceptually closer to other service-providing nonprofits (Toepler, 1999b), suggesting that their relationship patterns are not different from what the standard government/nonprofit typologies indicate. Our argument is therefore restricted to private grantmaking foundations and may only apply to relatively few organizations in countries where the operating form prevails (Rey-Garcia, 2020).
Young (2000) and Young and Casey (2016) use the terms complementary and supplementary to describe relationship patterns that are essentially the equivalent to what Gidron et al. (1992) termed collaborative and dual/parallel types, respectively. To avoid terminological confusion with foundation roles, we chose Gidron et al.’s terms for our purposes here. Gidron et al. also describe two additional, but marginal patterns: government-dominant and third sector-dominant, which we omit because the dual/parallel pattern essentially combines the two.
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This article draws on research originally conducted on behalf of the Council on Foundations, whose support is gratefully acknowledged. However, the authors are solely responsible for the content, analyses and opinions expressed in this article, which do not reflect opinions or positions of the Council.
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Toepler, S., Abramson, A. Government/Foundation Relations: A Conceptual Framework and Evidence from the U.S. Federal Government’s Partnership Efforts. Voluntas 32, 220–233 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-021-00331-z
- Philanthropic foundations
- Government/Nonprofit relations
- Foundation roles