The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 421–459 | Cite as

Financing the United Nations: Explaining variation in how donors provide funding to the UN

  • A. Burcu Bayram
  • Erin R. GrahamEmail author


When donors contemplate providing financial support to United Nations institutions they encounter a menu of funding options. Some UN institutions require mandatory dues, but most rely substantially on voluntary contributions, which donors can choose to earmark for specific purposes. How donors provide resources has widespread effects on the authority of UN governing bodies, donor control over UN programs, and the efficiency of UN operations. What explains how donors choose to fund UN programs and agencies? We advance a theory that emphasizes member state preferences over the affordability and policy substance of IO activity. Using data from two novel experiments and a case study of U.S. funding practices toward the United Nations (1945–1980s), we provide mixed-method evidence showing that a state is more likely to provide voluntary contributions when its preferences over the affordability and policy of IO activity differ from those of the governing coalition and more likely to provide mandatory contributions when its preferences are consistent with those of the governing coalition. Further, we demonstrate that preferences over policy substance are particularly important in explaining recent trends in donor earmarking.


International organization United Nations IO financing Foreign aid 



We thank Sarah Bush, Stephen Chaudoin, Vera Eichenauer, Joshua Kertzer, and Kathleen Powers, three anonymous reviewers, and the editor for valuable comments and suggestions, and Mark Paradis for research assistance.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PoliticsDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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