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Beyond the Contract: The Scope and Nature of Informal Government–Nonprofit Partnerships


Beth Gazley teaches public and nonprofit management in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University–Bloomington. Her research interests include voluntarism and intersectoral and interorganizational relations. She has published in the journals Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and Public Administration Review. Before entering academia, she worked in public interest politics and nonprofit management and consulting.


Privatization research lacks an understanding of the scope and nature of informal service delivery relationships between nonprofits and local government. This article reports on a study of local service delivery partnerships in Georgia using survey and interview data. In addition to assessing the frequency of noncontractual partnerships, this study builds on B. Guy Peters’s definition of public–private partnerships to delineate the control–formality dimensions of these partnerships more clearly. The agency theory notion that a trade-off occurs between formality and control is also tested. The findings show that most public–private partnerships involving nonprofits are led by government agencies, and they are only weakly collaborative in the sense of shared authority or resources. Often, community norms substitute for formal service agreements. The study concludes with suggestions for further research regarding trust and behavioral norms in public–private partnerships.