Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 206–232 | Cite as

Community foundations as advocates: social change discourse in the philanthropic sector

  • David F. SuárezEmail author
  • Kelly Husted
  • Andreu Casas
Original Article


Foundations are much more than disinterested philanthropic institutions that award grants to service-providing nonprofits. Foundations are political actors that seek to produce social change, not only by donating resources to nonprofits that promote causes but also by supporting policy reform in a more direct manner. We investigate engagement in advocacy among community foundations in the USA, which we define as the effort to influence public policy by proposing or endorsing ideas and by mobilizing stakeholders for social change. Drawing primarily on organizational sociology, we posit that the environmental context in which community foundations are situated and particular structural characteristics or operational features of community foundations (institutional logics, identity and embeddedness, and managerialism) will be associated with advocacy. We utilize machine learning techniques to establish an outcome measure of advocacy discourse on community foundation websites and ordinary least squares regression to model that outcome with a cross-sectional dataset compiled from multiple sources. We find considerable support for our conceptual frame, and we conclude by offering an agenda for future research on foundations as interest groups.


Advocacy Foundation Philanthropy Nonprofit Mission 



The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, Jeffrey Berry, Christof Brandtner, Patricia Bromley, Sarah Chasins, Emily Finchum-Mason, Aaron Horvath, and Walter Powell for their constructive comments. Prior versions of this paper were presented at the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research (SCANCOR) at Stanford University and at the ARNOVA Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A3A2925085).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evans School of Public Policy and GovernanceUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Data ScienceNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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