Federated Organizations

In April 2006 Marion Fremont-Smith and Peter Dobkin Hall embarked on a major collaboration to study federated organizations, a component of the nonprofit sector that has not heretofore been the focus of scholarly research, despite the fact that so many nonprofits central to civil society are federated entities. Among the most familiar are religious denominations, political parties, professional and trade associations, labor unions, advocacy groups, anti-poverty agencies, disaster relief organizations, service clubs, fraternal and sororal orders, environmental groups, veterans and patriotic organizations, and health charities. These entities take an amazing variety of forms, with some being tightly coupled and hierarchical and others loosely-coupled. Their financial arrangements also vary. By and large they are loosely regulated by the states and the Internal Revenue Service.

>Listen to Peter Dobkin Hall discuss federated organizations

Among the questions the study planned to address are the following: What is known about federated organizations? What is their role and function, looked at from economic, political, social and cultural viewpoints, both domestically and internationally. How are federated organizations structured? How are they financed? Are they particularly prone to tensions, crises and scandals? What is the role of federateds in the emerging global economy, polity and society, and what is the impact of legal, regulatory and political forces on their structure and function?

Fremont-Smith and Hall’s initial research was concentrated on a literature search and a number of case studies of particular organizations that exemplify the major types comprising the field. Among those being considered for in-depth examination are the American Automobile Association, Nature Conservancy, United Way of America, YMCA, a health organization and a fraternal order. Although the American Red Cross is one of the most well-known federated organizations, and possibly the least studied, it has a unique role as an “instrumentality of the federal government,” that warrants separate consideration, possibly as the study progresses.