Donors for democracy? Philanthropy and the challenges facing America in the twenty-first century

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After the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, a self-defined “resistance” movement arose to block his agenda. This movement cut across the normal boundaries of political activism to create new forms of advocacy and new models of cooperation. Major components of the resistance were ideological interest groups, women’s organizations, environmentalists, heretofore disengaged Millennials, racial and ethnic groups, community nonprofits, and, ostensibly, foundations and leading philanthropists—those we term “patrons.” We systematically examine the behavior of patrons to determine what role they played at this unique time in American history. We place this research in the context of interest group behavior, asking how patrons may have facilitated representation, altered strategic plans, reoriented advocacy, and repositioned themselves within policy communities supporting similar goals. Our findings undermine the idea that patrons played a central role in the developing resistance to the new administration, despite the fact that the new president was working against their values and the programs they support. However, a non-trivial minority of patrons, both institutional and individual, did mobilize their voice, institutional resources, and coalitions to resist the Trump agenda. These examples allow us to explore how patrons in some conditions might fulfill the roles of interest groups conventionally understood.





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Berry, JM, and KA Goss (2018). Donors for democracy? Philanthropy and the challenges facing America in the twenty-first century. Interest Groups and Advocacy, 7(3). pp. 233–257. 10.1057/s41309-018-0041-5 Retrieved from

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Kristin Anne Goss

Susan B. King Distinguished Professor of Public Policy

Professor Goss focuses on why people do (or don't) participate in political life and how their engagement affects public policymaking. Her current research projects focus on the role of philanthropic billionaires in policy debates and on the evolution of gun-related advocacy over the past decade. Her recent articles and books are here. If you want a quick summary, here are some podcasts, op-eds, and other media offerings. 

Professor Goss directs the "Duke in DC" program, which provides select undergraduates with an immersive experience combining work experience and policy-oriented seminars. In 2017, she was inducted into the Bass Society of Fellows. See more about Professor Goss at

Professor Goss has written or co-produced three books on gun politics and policy: The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know, with Philip J. Cook (Oxford University Press, 2020; 1st ed 2014); Gun Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics, Policy, and Practice, co-edited with Jennifer Carlson and Harel Shapira (Routledge, 2018); and Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America (Princeton University Press, 2006, 2009). The latter book is based on her doctoral study, which won the American Political Science Association’s 2003 Harold D. Lasswell Award for the nation’s best dissertation in policy studies.

Professor Goss has also written widely on gender and politics. She is the author of The Paradox of Gender Equality: How American Women's Groups Gained and Lost Their Public Voice (University of Michigan Press, 2020 1st ed., 2013). The book documents and explains the surprising rise -- and even more surprising fall -- of American women's groups on the national stage. Systematically examining these groups' issue agendas over the last century, the book argues that public policy has profoundly shaped the nature and magnitude of women's collective voice in important national debates.

Professor Goss has published articles in journals including Perspectives on Politics, Policy Studies Journal, PS: Political Science and Politics, Interest Groups & Advocacy, Law & Contemporary Problems, Social Science Quarterly, American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Politics & Gender, Women & Politics, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and the Fordham Law Review. She has also published chapters in major volumes on women's activism and interest groups. She is author of Better Together, the report of the Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America.

Professor Goss also is active in the Triangle Area chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, which amplifies the voice of university-based academics in public policy debates.

At Duke, she is affiliated with the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Voluntarism, the Hart Leadership Program, and the Duke Center for Firearms Law.

Before her appointment at Duke, Professor Goss taught American politics courses at Georgetown University and served as a consultant for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Her Duke master’s thesis explored the challenges facing voluntary associations seeking to stop the epidemic of gun violence in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s.

Professor Goss grew up near Denver, where she developed a passion for figure skating and animal welfare. Before entering academe, she was a Washington-based journalist for six years covering non-profit organizations and foundations for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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