A historian of charities and a lawyer revive interest in charity organizations that combine national and grassroots perspectives in a federated structure.
It's good to see that the researchers at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University (EIN 04-2103580 Form 990) are showing renewed interest in the structure and governance of the largest charity organizations. Most of the largest charities and nearly all fraternal organizations and labor unions employ a structure than involves both local chapters and a national body. However, these structures have been largely ignored by academic researchers, despite their prevalence.
Professors Peter Dobkin Hall (Inventing the Nonprofit Sector) and Marion Fremont-Smith (Governing Nonprofit Organizations: Federal and State Law and Regulation) want to change that, with a major study of federated organizations.
About a year ago, I reported on some findings of a study of federated organizations back in 1999 that resulted from a survey of organization structure and governance, including a review of the by-laws of the organizations. Some thirty-five organizations are mentioned in the report, many well-known charites, but others not so well known (I list them at the end). One issue that emerged from this earlier study is difficulty in distinguishing between truly federated charities, like American Cancer Society, from trade associations, like the American Association of Homes and Services for Aging. We can hope that this new study will find a way to distinguish the two very different forms of association, although the legal structures are so varied that it may be difficult to do just by an analysis of the formal structures.
These federated organizations play a central role in the charity industry and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. I believe that some form of federated structure for the vast majority of local charities is the best way to balance between the advantages of grassroots support and the necessity for internal controls and accountability. The shift of focus to federated organizations represents a new chapter—literally—in the academic study of nonprofit organizations.
Here are the thirty-five federated organizations mentioned in the 1999 article by Candace Widmer and Susan Houchin: