How foundations shape social movements

Philanthropic enterprises
The construction of an organizational field and the rise of forest certification
By Tim Bartley

Social movement scholars have demonstrated that foundation patronage channels social movements away from radical activities toward moderate goals, but accounts of how this process occurs are underdeveloped. Existing research typically focuses on foundations’ differential selection of grant recipients (i.e., “cherry-picking” nonthreatening groups) and transformation of particular recipient organizations over time (i.e., professionalizing grassroots groups). Scholars have overlooked ways in which foundations shape social movements by building or restructuring entire organizational fields. Foundation-led “field-building” activities may embed social movement organizations (SMOs) in new contexts and enroll them in new projects, thus channeling protest in subtle ways. This argument is illustrated with the case of forest certification—a form of governance created in the 1990s as a moderate, market-based alternative to disruptive environmental boycotts. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data, I show how foundations coordinated their grant-making to build a field of forest certification, enrolled social movement organizations in this project, and used the leverage of protest to further their fieldbuilding agenda.


  • social movements
  • organizational fields
  • philanthropic foundations
  • environment
  • global governance
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