Many decry the infiltration of the state into the workings of private charity, but the way in which philanthropy has influenced the workings of the state have rarely been explored.
"Philanthropy often takes cues from the state. As much as philanthropists celebrate their nimbleness and independence, they operate, of course, within a regulatory framework. Scholars have charted the ways in which philanthropies—from across the political spectrum—have positioned themselves vis-à-vis governments to compensate for weak states and challenge strong ones. Scholars have paid comparably less attention, however, to a related question: what cues do states take from philanthropy? Following this line of inquiry positions the state as the subject of study and reveals aspects of government operations that, in various times and settings, have borrowed programs, ideas, and methods from private philanthropy.
"To the extent that scholars have explored how states have learned from or mimicked private philanthropy, they have focused on what states have done and why. Scholars have productively tracked the moving boundary between what states and philanthropy have provided for social welfare, and in the case of the United States, have described a growing federal state in the twentieth century that took on roles previously dominated by the private philanthropic sector. The Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921 is one such example, when the federal state deemed aid to single mothers and their children a public responsibility. The creation of a national public housing program under the 1937 Housing Act to replace the piecemeal philanthropic housing of earlier decades is another example. Historians have also argued that ideas about poverty and other social ills have moved from philanthropic arenas to government ones as ways of justifying action. Social policy embraced the “opportunity theory” that foundations promoted in the 1950s, for example, and free market ideology in the 1980s. For all their strengths, these works tell us very little about how states governed and distributed resources in ways that adapted philanthropic tools for the public sector. Focusing on the evolution of grantmaking as a tool of both philanthropy and the state makes visible the means by which these funders shaped the nonprofit sector and, ultimately, the neighborhoods and people they served and employed."--Claire Dunning, HistPhil