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Financing Faith: Religion and Strategic Philanthropy


Correspondence should be addressed to D. Michael Lindsay, Department of Sociology, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005. E-mail:


Over the last century, a new form of strategic philanthropy arose—that of the private foundation. Foundations do not account for a large portion of donations received by religious organizations, but they can deploy important resources at critical moments. Examining data between 1999 and 2003 from the Foundation Center on grants and grant making, we find that a very small number of foundations are dominant actors in religious strategic philanthropy. These organizations introduce isomorphic tendencies within American religion. Federal tax policies and financial scandals precipitated the emergence of more organizational forms—regranting organizations, supporting organizations, and oversight organizations. Factors such as secularization, religious pluralism, and globalization have generated new challenges for private foundations, and in the aggregate, these developments have contributed to a restructuring within the world of religious philanthropy.