Doctoral Dissertation Research: Social Evaluations in Organizational Philanthropy

Project: Research project

Project Details


How do philanthropic foundations evaluate which nonprofits should receive their funds? The value of a nonprofit is multifaceted and difficult to assess, yet foundations have limited resources and grantmakers (i.e., those responsible for donations) must decide how to allocate funds. This study bridges insights from the sociology of evaluation with organizational theory to examine how grantmakers assess the merit of nonprofits. Empirically, the study relies on 80 interviews with grantmakers from 40 different corporate foundations and 40 different independent foundations in the city of Chicago. Ethnographic observations of one corporate foundation and one independent foundation are used to provide a greater understanding of the context and for triangulation purposes. Theoretically, the project explores how the organizational context in which evaluators sit shapes three aspects of evaluation processes: 1) evaluation criteria, 2) categorization, and 3) judgment devices. Specifically, the project seeks to understand how variation in organizational complexity and identity leads some grantmakers to focus heavily on foundation-specific criteria while others are guided by the actions and behavior of their peers.
Effective start/end date7/15/166/30/18


  • National Science Foundation (SES-1637182)


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