Government Grants to Private Charities: Do They Crowd-Out Giving or Fundraising?
When the government makes a grant to a private charitable organization, does it displace private giving? This is one of the fundamental policy questions in public finance, and much theoretical and empirical research has been devoted to understanding the relationship between private donations and government funding. Under the classic crowding-out hypothesis, donors let their involuntary tax contributions and substitute for their voluntary contributions. This paper raises the prospect of a second reason: that the stretegic response of the charity will be to pull back on its fundraising efforts after receiving a grant. We develop a theoretical model to show a charity that chooses its level of fundraising efforts strategically will reduce fundraising in response to government grants. We then analyze data on tax returns of 474 social services organizations and 245 arts organizations between 1982 and 1996. These two types of charitable organizations differ in both the nature of the services they provide and in their reliance on private donations and government grants. We find evidence that government grants to nonprofits are causing significant reductions in fundraising efforts, after looking at different types of fundraising activities. This finding is important for two reasons. First, it means that the behavior of the nonprofit organizations is consistent with the predictions of an economic model within a strategic environment. Second, it adds an important new dimension to the policy discussions on the effectiveness of government grants to increase the services of charitable nonprofit organizations. Charities are not passive receptables of contributions, as they have so often been treated in the past, but are active players in the market for donations. When the government gives a grant to charities, we shoul take into account the behavioral response of the charity itself, as well as the behavioral responses of the individual donors.
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