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Exhorting people to volunteer is part of the everyday vocabulary of American politics. Routinely, members of both major parties call for partnerships between government and nonprofit organizations. These entreaties increase dramatically during times of crisis, and the voluntary efforts of ordinary citizens are now seen as a necessary supplement to government intervention.
But despite the ubiquity of the idea of volunteerism in public policy debates, analysis of its role in American governance has been fragmented. Bringing together a diverse set of disciplinary approaches, Politics and Partnerships is a thorough examination of the place of voluntary associations in political history and an astute investigation into contemporary experiments in reshaping that role. The essays here reveal the key role nonprofits have played in the evolution of both the workplace and welfare and illuminate the way that government’s retreat from welfare has radically altered the relationship between nonprofits and corporations.
Elisabeth S. Clemens and Doug Guthrie
Public debate is now full of the language of philanthropy and voluntarism. From both major American political parties, there are calls for new kinds of partnerships between government and nonprofit—as well as "faith-based"—organizations to provide services and support. In his famous "1,000 Points of Light" speech in 1989, President George H. W. Bush declared that public goods should be produced by a "readiness and ability of every individual and every institution in America to initiate action as 'a point of light'; meaningful one-to-one engagement in the lives of others is now required to overcome our most serious national problems." Arguing that charitable action and the provision of public goods should be by individuals and community-based rather than federally funded, Bush called for "a movement that is grassroots and community-based rather than devised in and imposed from Washington, a movement that does not compensate people with federal dollars for what should be an obligation of citizenship." Today more than ever, individual citizens are urged to volunteer, to donate, to participate in their local communities. In times of crisis, calls for public service multiply, signaling that voluntary effort is understood as a necessary supplement to government action. And recently, in the face of international criticisms of the relatively low level of development aid provided by the U.S. government, one prominent theme in the heated response has highlighted the scale of private donations from Americans to disaster relief, an outpouring of voluntary giving that is taken as one of the defining features of the nation's civic culture.
Yet despite the fact that volunteerism, charity, and nonprofit organizations seem to be almost everywhere in public policy debates, it has been surprisingly difficult to conceptualize their role in American governance. Among political scientists, the analysis of American politics and political history has focused on formal political institutions and electoral behavior, too often overlooking the extragovernmental organizations that are critical sites for political mobilization and public provision. Among sociologists, nonprofit organizations are most often addressed in the context of either social movements or social service. The emphasis on opposition to authority in the former and on professions in the latter has combined to obstruct a clear analysis of how nonprofits are implicated in electoral politics, policy formation, and relations of ruling. Nor have these literatures fully engaged the role of firms and markets as contributors, competitors, and substitutes for voluntary efforts. Finally, those working within the worlds of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy have been reluctant to acknowledge the more political aspects of their activities. Chastened by a history of congressional investigations and threats to their tax-exempt status, advocates and practitioners have obscured—and even avoided (Berry 2003)—forms of political activity that may be quite acceptable within the constraints of the law.
Given the heightened prominence of nonprofit organizations and philanthropic endeavors in public affairs, this fragmented and confused understanding of the role of voluntary associations in American governance has become more difficult to ignore. The ramifying system of public-private partnerships in social provision demands systematic recognition in political analysis, but that recognition cannot begin with the premise that such arrangements are entirely novel. A sustained analysis of the reasons why such arrangements have succeeded and failed—and for whom—in the past can inform contemporary efforts to understand and transform contemporary systems of governance in the United States.
Politics and Partnerships contributes to this project by combining a reconsideration of the place of voluntary associations in American political history with informed analyses of contemporary experiments in reconfiguring the role of such associations in policy formation and public provision. Once relations among government agencies, voluntary or civic associations, and even private firms are placed front and center, their history is transfigured from the development of three distinctive domains to a process of contestation over the legitimacy of organizational forms, their respective jurisdictions, and their interdependencies. This reframing focuses attention on the complex, compound, or networked character of American governance in which voluntary associations and nonprofit organizations play an important part, variously described as "mediating organizations," "heterarchic governance," or "triadic exchange" by our contributors (see chapters by Omri Elisha, Michael McQuarrie, and Nicole Marwell). The seemingly distinct and apolitical character of nonprofits that informs the "three sector" model—state, market, voluntary sector—is itself the product of a particular period of American history (see Elisabeth Clemens, chapter 4, and Alice O'Connor, chapter 5), a moment of settlement that is once again challenged by the increasingly visible interpenetration of publicly funded, philanthropically supported, and entrepreneurial projects.
Voluntary Associations in America's Political Past
Although the trinity of state, market, and nonprofit sectors does not fully capture the organizational and political history of the United States, it can nevertheless generate a set of orienting questions about the development of voluntary associations. When and why were some voluntary associations, characterized by relatively independent and distinctive streams of resources, relatively unengaged with either business or public endeavors? When was mingling of money or effort among diverse organizations condemned or praised? Posed from the perspective of firms and state agencies, when and why did such organizations encourage or depend on collaboration with organizations that were understood as voluntary, as significantly different in their defining motivations and responsibilities? When and why did voluntary associations adopt increasingly corporate forms in their structure and practice?
Such questions highlight the emergent character of distinctively "voluntary" organizations in early American history. While many projects of mutual self-help and collective altruism bubbled up through the informal networks of community and kin, such endeavors could become durable entities only through a political act: the granting of a charter. Charters granted organizations a form of legal personhood, allowing the organization itself to make contracts, to hold funds, and to own real estate (see Johann Neem, chapter 2). If organizations are to thrive, they—like Virginia Woolf's women—need rooms of their own. But such charters were not granted lightly. Political elites were extremely wary of dispersing these privileges. For collective enterprises that were not explicitly involved in trade, the granting of a charter required a credible claim that the organization would somehow contribute to the public good. And the associations themselves were not free to define that public good, as well-intentioned religious groups found when President Washington sharply dismissed their offer to raise donations to provide a ransom for Americans taken in the Barbary Coast (Allison 1995). Thus both the fact of and the rationale for a charter were deeply political and, consequently, tightly held by government elites.
In the first decades after independence, charters were not widely granted, but voluntary associations and philanthropic projects soon came to play a significant role in the economic development of the relatively new nation, providing vehicles for the accumulation of liquid capital that could be invested in fledgling industries. In New York, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism sponsored the creation of the Savings Bank of New York to serve the city's poor and working classes; the bank grew rapidly, serving as one of the major debt holders for the Erie Canal. In Boston, the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company managed the funds and endowments for many institutions and was a source of credit for the state's textile industry, "siphoning charitable, religious, and educational endowments into regional economic development" (McCarthy 2003, 90–93). For individuals, particularly women and others excluded from many political and economic endeavors, voluntary associations provided important opportunities to cultivate management and financial skills as well as to construct careers for women supporting themselves and their families.
If the financial resources of voluntary associations supported economic development, their direct efforts were more visibly important in the field of social provision and public policy. Rather than building public institutions supported by public funds, many states in the North chose to provide public subsidies to private charitable organizations serving orphans, needy widows, the working poor, and other classes deemed worthy of support (Clemens 2006; Fitzgerald 2006). Voluntary associations also served as vehicles for political action and advocacy. Associations mobilized Americans across the nation—enfranchised men as well as disenfranchised women and blacks—in support of Sunday schools, temperance, abolition, women's rights, and a host of other proposed remedies to the ills of society (McCarthy 2003; Young 2002). Waves of such political activity reshaped the American party system—first through the mobilization of abolitionists, later through insurgencies sustained by labor, agrarian, and women's associations (Clemens 1997; Sanders 1999). From the late nineteenth century well past the middle of the twentieth, large voluntary associations provided critical vehicles for mobilizing public opinion and sustaining political careers (Skocpol 2003), as well as an infrastructure of insurance, medical care, and general support (Beito 2000).
But just as voluntary associations were put to ever new uses by different groups and individuals, the organizations themselves changed in character. In part, this was a simple result of increasing financial resources. Wartime appeals to voluntarism and the intensification of federal income taxation during World War I combined with the federal charitable deduction for individuals (and, as of the mid-1930s, for corporations) to encourage increased levels of charitable contribution. When adjusted to constant dollars, both individual (figures 1.1 and 1.2) and corporate contributions (figures 1.3 and 1.4) in the period after World War II represent a fundamentally different resource environment from that of the 1930s and before. By the 1950s, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. remarked on the "fabulous dimensions" of American philanthropy (Cutlip 1965, 477), as private institutions—particularly universities, colleges, and hospitals—built impressive endowments. Increased resources also contributed to growth in the numbers of nonprofit, voluntary, and religious entities (figure 1.5), although these trends may also reflect the increasing likelihood that associations would acquire formal legal standing.
Charitable organizations also increasingly responded to the ideals of professionalism, often minimizing the role of volunteers and the embedding of agencies in local communities as professional managers gained greater control (e.g., Davis 1967; Oates 2003; Watson 1922). The rise of "scientific charity" in the early twentieth century transformed the relationship of volunteers to organizational governance as well as to the intended beneficiaries of their actions. A parallel change marked the more political advocacy groups that followed a shift "from membership to management" (Skocpol 2003). Charitable or nonprofit organizations (to use a term that began to gain currency after World War II) diverged ever further from the ideal of voluntary civic engagement that continues to inform many celebratory claims for the sector.
This partial decoupling of voluntary associations from popular civic participation was only one aspect of the shifting alignment of these formally private organizations with governmental institutions and activities. Major political cleavages turned on the desired relationship between private efforts and public programs, with Herbert Hoover championing his "American system" or associational state as a model of governance resting on the capacity for private action to address many social needs. Given the strength of Hoover's identification with voluntary efforts—first in wartime efforts to aid refugees and provide food relief, then as secretary of commerce collaborating with the Red Cross to respond to the devastating Mississippi River Flood of 1927, and finally as president calling for private efforts to manage the devastation of the drought in the South and unemployment that would become the Great Depression—it has often been assumed that the Roosevelt administration's mark was made primarily in the establishment of fully public entitlements and the marginalization of private charity.
However, the expansion of governmental intervention in social provision from the New Deal forward did not constitute the creation of a sharply delimited bureaucratic state. Even during the 1930s, the full-blown backlash against public subsidies to private charities was short-lived and, by mid-decade, new streams of federal funds began to flow to private nonprofit organizations (Hammack 1999). By the postwar era, these new financial arrangements were taken up as a strategy for building a private alternative to further expansion of federal programs or, failing that, as a means for channeling government funds through private organizations. During the 1950s, new spending initiatives in health care took the form of novel collaborations between government and business—often with the aim of constructing not-for-profit hospitals (Scott et al. 2000, 189–90, 252–58). With the social programs of the Great Society and War on Poverty, collaborations between government agencies and nonprofit organizations multiplied in efforts to both avoid the politically controversial expansion of state bureaucracies and to allow for the "maximum feasible participation" of the poor as well as their advocates (Smith and Lipsky 1993). Yet for all this expansion, the increasing interdependence of government programs and nonprofit—or "charitable"—organizations did not fully penetrate the political consciousness of the time. Thus, in the 1980s, when President Reagan proposed to significantly cut government social spending on the grounds that nonprofits could take care of the needy, the modern field of nonprofit scholarship took off in an effort to document the extent to which the nonprofit sector was dependent on government support (Salamon and Abramson 1982).
The Nonprofit Sector in America's Political Present and Future
Although the current moment is not unprecedented in the interpenetration of voluntary, governmental, and market-oriented organizations, the present debate is significantly more conscious of the interrelationships among these allegedly distinct sectors of society. Policy advocacy is often entwined with claims for the distinctive virtue of one or another organizational vehicle for social provision—the efficiency of business organizations, the altruism of voluntary organizations, the values of "faith-based" programs, or the accountability and universality of fully public programs. However, the current era maintains a much clearer focus on the ways in which these sectors are forming partnerships that are transforming the distinctive nature of each of them.
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1 Introduction: Politics and Partnerships
Elisabeth S. Clemens and Doug Guthrie
Part I Of, By, and Instead of Politics
2 Civil Society and American Nationalism, 1776–1865
Johann N. Neem
3 Steering the State: Government, Nonprofits, and the Making of Labor Knowledge in the New Era
4 In the Shadow of the New Deal: Reconfiguring the Roles of Government and Charity, 1928–1940
Elisabeth S. Clemens
Part II Nonprofits in a World of Markets
5 Bringing the Market Back In: Philanthropic Activism and Conservative Reform
6 Nonprofit Research Institutes: From Companies without Products to Universities without Students
James A. Evans
7 Corporate Philanthropy in the United States: What Causes Do Corporations Back?
Part III Boundary Crossing: Contemporary Recombinations of Markets, States, and Nonprofit Organizing
8 Privatizing the Welfare State: Nonprofit Community-Based Organizations as Political Actors
Nicole P. Marwell
9 Nonprofits and the Reconstruction of Urban Governance: Housing Production and Community Development in Cleveland, 1975–2005
10 Evangelical Megachurches and the Christianization of Civil Society: An Ethnographic Case Study
11 Resolviendo: How September 11 Tested and Transformed a New York City Mexican Immigrant Organization
List of Contributors