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U.S. Government Funding of International Nongovernmental Organizations

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Document date: May 30, 2006
Released online: May 30, 2006

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Brief No. 1 in the Nonprofits in Focus series

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From their first appearance between the two World Wars to the 1960s, U.S.- based international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) operated largely separate from the federal government. Funding for INGOs came almost entirely from private contributions, and programmatic approaches of INGOs and the government differed. The failure of direct government-to-government foreign assistance, however, eventually spurred the federal government to work more directly with INGOs, which were seen as more efficient and effective. The result has been a dramatic rise in government funding for INGOs since the 1970s. However, little attention has been paid to the extent services of government support for INGOs, the types of INGOs involved, and the regions they work in. Moreover, it has been difficult to track how changes in foreign policy affect government funding for INGOs.

Currently, about fifty federal agencies and offices support some kind of international programming and often work with INGOs to achieve their objectives. INGOs that partner with government run the full spectrum, from large multimillion-dollar organizations that offer many programs in multiple regions of the world to small, single-service entities focusing on one program in a given region. They provide services in an increasingly diverse array of areas, including disaster relief, agriculture, technology, economics, environment, health, education, human rights, refugees, and, more recently, democracy and civil society. Examples of larger INGOs working with government include World Vision, Freedom House, Save the Children Federation, Landmine Survivors Network, Africare, the Carter Center, and Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the largest INGO government partner and provides the most information on its INGO involvement. Historically, the portion of USAID’s overall budget going to private voluntary organizations (which include all nonprofits, not just U.S.-based INGOs)1 has ranged between 14 and 19 percent.2 However, this figure can vary dramatically by individual office. In 2000, for example, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance reported that over 70 percent of its aid was channeled through private voluntary organizations (PVOs) (Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance 2000). The percentage of USAID money going to PVOs may be even higher, as some USAID funding is indirectly provided to PVOs through other organizations, such as other U.S. government agencies and the United Nations (GAO 2002). While these numbers tell us how much of the USAID budget goes to nonprofits, little information exists on the fifty or so other government agencies providing international assistance and their work with INGOs.

Indeed, the full scope of federal government financing for INGOs, and how it has changed over time, has generally been difficult to estimate. With different government agencies providing international assistance in different areas, the numbers and types of organizations involved and their funding have been hard to determine. However, newly analyzed data from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS)/GuideStar National Nonprofit Database provide insight on government funding for INGOs, including new trends after 2001 due to shifts in foreign policy.

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Topics/Tags: | Governing | International Issues | Nonprofits


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