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GRANT EVALUATION: WHAT PRIVATE FOUNDATIONS DO AND WHY THEY DO IT: An Examination of Grant Assessment Motivations and Practices

Scherer, Shelley C. (2015) GRANT EVALUATION: WHAT PRIVATE FOUNDATIONS DO AND WHY THEY DO IT: An Examination of Grant Assessment Motivations and Practices. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Philanthropic foundations have long played important roles in American society. Scholars have explored institutional philanthropy from a variety of perspectives but have not yet generated a robust theory of foundation behavior. This study explores one specific aspect of foundation behavior, grant assessment. Here, “grant assessment” refers to the full range of post-award reflections on a given grant, from formal evaluations to informal, retrospective judgments. The purpose of this study is to investigate the variations in motivations and practices of assessing grants, the plausible sources of these variations, and the relationship between grant assessment motivations and practices. Since there is little theoretically-grounded, empirical research in this domain, this study is exploratory with the aim of developing theory rather than testing hypotheses. The research design is inductive and primarily qualitative. Data gathering included key informant interviews with 27 grant-making professionals from 17 private foundations in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) area. Content analyses of these foundations’ websites and public documents complemented the interview data.
The findings from this study suggest that grant assessment motivations and practices are triggered by two mechanisms: one agent-based, derived from the foundation’s organizational identity and the other grant-based, determined by grant type. Informants demonstrated high fidelity to organizational identity as expressed in their foundations’ mission statements and signaled by other organizational messaging devices, including website design and content. The organizational identity typology which emerged provides support for moving beyond the conventional conceptualization of foundation behavior along a continuum of “active” to “passive” to one that acknowledges the role of identity.
These findings contest that conventional perspective and offer an alternative interpretation of foundation behavior, through the lens of organizational identity, defined here as organizational values, aspirations, and competencies (Camillus, 2008). That is, these findings suggest that organizational identity is the central determinant of foundation practices, with implications for the types of grants they make and their grant assessment motivations and practices. This study concludes with suggestions for further research to refine this typology and to test the extent to which organizational identity explains foundation grant-making practices.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Scherer, Shelley C.scs44@pitt.eduSCS44
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKearns, Kevin P.kkearns@pitt.eduKKEARNS
Committee MemberGroark, Christina J.cgroark@pitt.eduCGROARK
Committee MemberMurtazashvili, Jennifer C.jmurtaz@pitt.eduJMURTAZ
Committee MemberNelson, Paul J. pjnelson@pitt.eduPJNELSON
Committee MemberThemudo, Nuno s.themudo@pitt.eduTHEMUDO
Date: 1 July 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 13 April 2015
Approval Date: 1 July 2015
Submission Date: 20 April 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 241
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philanthropy, Private Foundations, Grant Evaluation, Organizational Identity, Grant Assessment
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2015 14:42
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:27


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