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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The language used to refer to different contribution types varies across IOs, and across UN programs and agencies. Within the UN, “unrestricted contributions” are also referred to as unearmarked, multilateral, and general purpose. “Restricted contributions” are variously referred to as earmarked, non-core, negotiated, multi-bilateral, bilateral, directed multilateral, and special-purpose.
Other UN programs (discussed below) rely exclusively on voluntary contributions. UN Specialized Agencies, like the WHO and FAO rely on a combination of mandatory, unrestricted voluntary, and restricted voluntary contributions.
For data on funding rules across UN programs, see Graham (2016).
In the analysis we do not directly test whether respondents withhold funds. Rather, we infer that if they express a preference for complete control, they are more likely to withhold mandatory contributions.
The Geneva Group is an informal group composed of the UN’s largest contributors, open to those that contribute more than 1 % of the regular budget. See Alvarez (1990–91), supranote 81.
Participants’ ages range from 18 to 49 (mean: 20). 45 % of the participants identified as Democrat, 27 % as Republican, and 27 % as Independent. 22 % identified as White/Caucasian, 14 % as African American, 28 % as Asian, and 26 % as Hispanic. About 1.7 % of the participants identified as extremely conservative, 3.3 % extremely liberal, and 46 % identified as moderate, middle of the road.
Using random assignment to determine which experiment a participant sees first helps guard against carryover effects, namely the possibility that exposure to one experiment influences the preferences respondents express in the second experiment. Even though the time lag between the two experiments is short, we believe that carryover from one experiment to the other is not serious problem in our study. In the online appendix, which can be found on the journal’s website, we show that experiment order does not have a statistically significant impact on funding choices.
We present the texts of experimental protocols in the online appendix available on the journal’s website.
To estimate these differences, we use Conover-Iman multiple-comparison tests for stochastic dominance with a Bonferroni correction, using Dinno (2014) command. These tests can be regarded as showing the differences in medians.
We also observe that the funding preferences of respondents assigned to treatment conditions 1 (z = −2.84 p = 0.024), 2 (z = −4.76 p = 0.000), and 4 (z = −4.53 p = 0.001) differ significantly from the preferences of those assigned to the control condition. We did not observe that the funding choices of respondents assigned to condition 3 differed from those who were in the control condition (z = 0.14 p = 1.000). In the online appendix, available at the journal’s website, we provide further evidence for the effect of experimental treatments on participants’ preferences to fund UNFPA by regressing funding choices onto experimental conditions.
In the online appendix, we report the results from multinomial logistic (MNL) regression models for all of our OL models as robustness checks. Substantive findings obtained from MNL estimations parallel the findings reported here. The appendix also reports the test results for the proportional odds assumption of OL as well as Hausman tests.
For example, if a respondent is in condition 1, the Substance divergent variable has a value of “0” but the Affordability divergent variable takes on a value of “1” since participants in condition 1 were informed that America’s preferences over the size of UNFPA’ activity differ from those of the executive board yet there is agreement among donors on the agency’s policy priorities.
While we do not have specific theoretical expectations regarding the impact of respondents’ gender identity, age, and family income on funding preferences, we nevertheless control for these factors in alternative model specifications reported in the online appendix. The coefficients for these variables do not reach statistical significance.
This result might party be a function of the fact that a majority of the participants in our sample identified as moderate, middle of the road. When we take political party identification into account, we still do not find significant differences across democrats, republicans, and independents. Results are available upon request.
The funding preferences of respondents assigned to treatment conditions 2 (z = −2.96 p = 0.017) and 4 (z = −3.0 p = 0.020) differ significantly from the preferences of those assigned to the control condition. We did not observe that the funding choices of respondents assigned to conditions 1 and 3 differed from those who were in the control condition.
We thank one of the anonymous reviewers for bringing up this point.
Our results do not change when we pool the data across the experiments. Estimations with the pooled data can be found in the online appendix available on this journal’s webpage.
U.S. compliance data is found in General Assembly documents: A/80 1946, 2; A/377 1947; A/628, 7; A/954 1949, 5; A/1330 1950; A/1859 1951, 5; A/2161 1952; A/2461 1953; A/2716 1954; A/2951 1955; A/3121 1956; A/3714 1957; A/3890 1958; A/3890 1958.
UN Yearbook 1946–47, 97.
FRUS 1952–1954, Volume III. United Nations Affairs, Document 25.
Quoted in Gerson 2000, p. 65.
FRUS, 1969–1976. Volume V, United Nations, 1969–1972 (hereafter FRUS 1969–76), Document 147.
FRUS, 1969–76, Document 150.
FRUS, 1969–76, Document 150.
FRUS, 1969–76, Document 174.
FRUS, 1969–76, Document 186.
FRUS, 1969–76, Document 186.
FRUS, (1969–76). Document 147.
Quoted in Kirkpatrick (1988), 270.
House of Representatives. Foreign Assistance and Related Program Appropriations for 1982, Hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. Part 5., 525.
UNDP and the GAO investigations found no basis for this claim.
S.1196. International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1981.
Alger, C. F. (1973). The United States and the United Nations. International Organization, 27, 1–23.
Alvarez, J. E. (1990). Legal remedies and the United Nations’ a la carte problem. Michigan Journal of International Law, 12, 229–311.
Bayram, A. B. (2015). What drives modern Diogenes? Individual values and cosmopolitan allegiance. European Journal of International Relations, 21(2), 451–479.
Bayram, A. B. (2016). Good Europeans? How European identity and costs interact to explain politician attitudes towards compliance with European Union law. Journal of European Public Policy. doi:10.1080/13501763.2015.1114659.Online first
Bloomfield, L. (1956) Report on "Evaluation of Role of U.S. in 10th General Assembly". Washington: Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.
Brunnée, J., & Toope, S. J. (2010). Legitimacy and legality in international law: An interactional account. Cambridge: CUP.
Campbell, D. T. (1958). Common fate, similarity, and other indices of status of aggregates of persons as social entities. Behavioral Sciences, 3(1), 14–25.
Carter, D., & Stone, R. (2015). Democracy and multilateralism: the case of vote buying in the UN general assembly. International Organization, 69(1), 1–33.
Claude Jr., I. L. (1963). The political framework of the United Nations’ financial problems. International Organization, 17, 831–859.
Collier, D., Brady, H. E., & Seawright, J. (2004). Sources of leverage in causal inference. In H. E. Brady & D. Collier (Eds.), Rethinking Social Inquiry (pp. 229–266). Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc..
Cortell, A. P., and Peterson, S. (2006) Dutiful Actors, Rogue Agents, or Both? Staffing, Voting Rules, and Slack in the WHO and WTO. Darren Hawkins, David A. Lake, Daniel Nielson and Michael Tierney. In Delegation and Agency in International Organizations, CUP pp. 255–80.
Dinno, A. (2014). conovertest: Conover-Iman test of multiple comparisons using rank sums. Stata software package. <http://www.doyenne.com/stata/conovertest.html>
Dreher, A., Sturm, J.-E., & Vreeland, J. (2009a). Global horse trading: IMF loans for votes in the United Nations Security Council. European Economic Review, 53, 742–757.
Dreher, A., Sturm, J.-E., & Vreeland, J. (2009b). Development aid and international politics: does membership on the UN Security Council influence World Bank decisions? Journal of Development Economics, 88(1), 14–32.
Druckman, James N. and Ciny Kam. (2011) Students as experimental participants: A defense of the ‘Narrow Data Base.’ In Cambridge handbook of experimental political science, eds. James N. Druckman, Donald P. Green, James H. Kuklinski, and Arthur Lupia, Cambridge: CUP. pp. 70–95.
Druckman, J. N., Green, D. P., Kuklinski, J. H., & Lupia, A. (Eds.) (2011). Cambridge handbook of experimental political science. Cambridge: CUP.
Eichenauer, V. and Hug, S. (2015). The Politics of Special Purpose Trust Funds. Unpublished manuscript.
Galey, M. E. (1988). Reforming the regime for financing the United Nations. Howard Law Journal, 31, 543–574.
GAO. (1989) United Nations: U.S. Participation in the Environment Program. Washington, DC.
GAO. (1997) International Organizations: U.S. Participation in the United Nations Development Program. Washington, DC.
Gerson, A. (1999) UN Fiscal Crisis Brought on by U.S. Arrears Proceedings from the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law). Vol. 93 (March 24–27, 1999).
Gerson, A. (2000). Multilateralism a la Carte: the consequences of Unilateral ‘Pick and Pay’ approaches. European Journal of International Law, 11(1), 61–66.
Governing Council of UNEP. (2013) Biennial Programme of Work and Budget for 2014–2015. Nairobi. February.
Graham, E. R. (2014). International organizations as collective agents: fragmentation and the limits of principal control at the World Health Organization. European Journal of International Relations, 20(2), 366–390.
Graham, E. R. (2015). Money and multilateralism: how funding rules constitute IO governance. International Theory, 7(1), 162–194.
Graham, E. R. (2016). The institutional design of funding rules at international organizations: explaining the transformation in financing the United Nations. European Journal of International Relations. doi:10.1177/1354066116648755.
Hafner-Burton, E. M., LeVeck, B. L., Victor, D. G., & Fowler, J. H. (2014). Decision maker preferences for international legal cooperation. International Organization, 68(4), 845–876.
Hawkins, D., Lake, D., Nielson, D., & Tierney, M. (2006). Delegation and agency in international organizations. New York: CUP.
Holsti, O., & James Rosenau, J. (1988). The Domestic and Foreign Policy Beliefs of American Leaders. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32(2), 248–294.
Hyde, S. D. (2015). Experiments in international relations: lab, survey, and field. Annual Review of Political Science, 18, 403–424.
Kaya, A. (2015). Power and global economic institutions. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kelley, J. (2007). Who keeps international commitments and why? The international criminal court and Bilateral non-surrender agreements. American Political Science Review, 101(3), 574–589.
Kilby, C. (2011). Informal influence in the Asian Development Bank. Review of International Organizations, 6(3–4), 223–257.
Kinder, D. R., & Palfrey, T. R. (1993). Experimental foundations of political science. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Kirkpatrick, J. (1988) Legitimacy and Force: Political and Moral Dimensions Volume 1. Transaction Publishers.
Kleine, M. (2013). Trading control: national fiefdoms in international organizations. International Theory, 5(3), 321–346.
Knox, J. (1999). UN Fiscal Crisis Brought on by U.S. Arrears Proceedings from the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) (March 24–27) Vol. 93, pp. 150–152.
Koremenos, B., Lipson, C., & Snidal, D. (2001). Rational Designs: explaining the form of international institutions. International Organization, 55, 1–32.
Kotschnig, W. (1968). The United Nations as an Instrument of Economic and Social Development. International Organization, 22(3), 16–43.
Luck, E. (2003) Reforming the United Nations: Lessons from a History in Progress. In International Relations Studies and the United Nations, edited by Jean Krasno. ACUNS.
McDermott, R. (2002). Experimental methodology in political science. Political Analysis, 10(4), 325–342.
McDermott, R. (2011). Internal and External Validity. In J. N. Druckman, D. P. Green, J. H. Kuklinski, & A. Lupia (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science (pp. 42–69). Cambridge: CUP.
McLean, E. (2012). Donors’ preferences and agent choice: delegation of European development aid. International Studies Quarterly, 56, 381–395.
Milner, H., & Tingley, D. (2013). The choice for multilateralism: foreign aid and American foreign policy. Review of International Organizations, 8, 313–341.
Mintz, A., Redd, S. B., & Vedlitz, A. (2006). Can we generalize from student experiments to the real world in political science, military affairs, and international relations? Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(5), 757–776.
Morton, R. B., & Williams, K. C. (2010). Experimental political science and the study of causality: From nature to the lab. Cambridge: CUP.
Nielson, D., & Tierney, M. (2003). Delegation to international organizations: agency theory and World Bank environmental reform. International Organization, 57, 241–276.
Norris, P. (2000). Global governance and cosmopolitan citizens. In J. Nye & J. D. Donahue (Eds.), Governance in Globalizing World (pp. 155–177). New York: CUP.
OECD (2010). DAC Report on multilateral aid. Paris: OECD.
OECD. (2014) Making Earmarked Funding more Effective: Current Practices and a Way Forward.
Pouliot, V. (2011). Multilateralism as an End in Itself. 12(1), 18–26.
Rathbun, B. (2014). Wedges and widgets: liberalism, libertarianism, and the trade attitudes of the American mass public and elites. Foreign Policy Analysis. doi:10.1111/fpa. 12037.
Reinsberg, B., Michaelowa, K., and Knack, S. (2015). Which Donors, Which Funds? The Choice of Multilateral Funds by Bilateral Donors at the World Bank. Policy Research Working Paper #7441. World Bank Group.
Renshon, J., Milo, K., Kertzer, J. (2015). Democratic Leaders, Crises and War: Paired Experiments on the Israeli Knesset and Public. Working paper. Availbale online at <http://jonathanrenshon.com/Site/CurrentResearch_files/DemocraciesWarCrises-website.pdf>
Rubin, D. B. (1974). Estimating causal effects of treatments in randomized and nonrandomized studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 66, 688–701.
Schneider, C., & Tobin, J. (2013). Interest coalitions and multilateral aid allocation in the European Union. International Studies Quarterly, 57, 103–114.
Shadish, W. R., Cook, T., & Campbell, D. T. (2002). Experimental and Quasi- experimental designs for generalized causal inference. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sridhar, D., & Woods, N. (2013). Trojan multilateralism: global cooperation in health. Global Policy, 4, 325–335.
Stone, R. (2011). Controlling institutions: International organizations and the global economy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why People Obey the Law. New Haven: Yale University Press.
UN General Assembly (2011) Analysis of Funding for Operational Activities for Development of the United Nations System for 2009. 18 May 2011. Geneva.
UNEP. (2014) UNEP Funding Strategy: Universal Membership, Global Responsibility.
Voeten, E. (2000). Clashes in the Assembly. International Organization, 52(2), 185–215.
Wittkopf, E. R. (1990). Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Durham: Duke University Press.
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.
The authors contributed equally and interactively to this article. The authors have multiple papers together, and the order of their names follows a principle of rotation.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Bayram, A.B., Graham, E.R. Financing the United Nations: Explaining variation in how donors provide funding to the UN. Rev Int Organ 12, 421–459 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-016-9261-0
- International organization
- United Nations
- IO financing
- Foreign aid