Foundations claim their role is either to do what government won't or to be an agent of social change, but the findings of this study show they largely augment what the state does.
"Philanthropic foundations are independent when it comes to revenue. That seemingly neutral fact has led to two assumptions that govern how we tend to think about their interaction with the policy environment. First, foundations are typically seen as having unusual freedom to express policy preferences through their giving choices, resulting in considerable power to bring attention to new ideas or service technologies. Second, as a corollary to that, foundations have traditionally been conceptualized as operating largely independently of environmental influences, instead providing leadership by seeding social innovation and promoting new ideas. In other words, foundation trustees and administrators like to talk a lot about the influence they have on policy, but play down the influence policy has on them.
"As organizational scholars, we find this very odd. Almost all current organizational theory would predict that, like all organizations, foundations are strongly affected by the environment in which they operate. Why shouldn’t they be? The policy environment sets the stage for effectiveness, for example by creating incentives for innovative new programs or highlighting unmet needs. In our view, the question should not be whether or not foundations are responsive to the policy environment but rather to which aspects are they responsive and to what degree? It is only through this detail of how foundations respond to their environment that we can understand better their public policy roles. Currently foundations are under-conceptualized as public policy actors and, as a result, we know surprisingly little about the public policy roles they adopt."--Jennifer Mosley and Joseph Galaskiewicz, HistPhil