The GiveWell Blog

The first case study from our history of philanthropy project

[Added August 27, 2014: GiveWell Labs is now known as the Open Philanthropy Project.]

Benjamin Soskis, who has been working for us on our history of philanthropy project, has completed a case study (.docx) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-Pew Memorial Trust Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program. We have found this case study very interesting and believe it to be a helpful addition to the literature on the history of philanthropy and its impacts. Dr. Soskis had previously compiled a literature review for this program (.docx).

In brief, the HCH program consisted of the following:

“In December 1983, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with Pew Memorial Trusts, spurred by a recognition of how little was being done to address the health care needs of the homeless, issued a call for proposals to … develop means of incorporating the homeless into local outpatient health care systems…. Ultimately, the foundations funded 19 coalitions over the course of four years, spending a total of $25 million…. In June 1987, Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major piece of federal legislation to address homelessness in more than half a century…. That the RWJF-Pew program should be granted a significant degree of causal impact in the incorporation of the program into the McKinney Act is undeniable.” (Case Study, Pg 1)

The full case study is available here (.docx).
The full list of sources is available here (.docx).

Dr. Soskis’s case study provides an example of how philanthropy can influence policy change. He writes:

“Incorporation of the HCH program within the McKinney Act was the result of a convergence of a well-designed demonstration project with a policy window opened by a campaign by homeless advocates begun earlier in the decade. The advocates pushed for the federal government to address the mounting crisis of homelessness and when that campaign came to fruition, the HCH program was available as a policy model. The RWJF-Pew HCH program, therefore, does not merely represent a model of a successful demonstration project, but of a particularly powerful convergence between philanthropic initiative and broader political currents.” (Case Study, Pg 3)

The picture that emerges from the case study seems importantly different from the picture we got from a shorter piece in a list of 100 philanthropic success stories. The shorter case made the project’s impact seem relatively more significant, and our interest in this case was partly due to the fact that we’ve been pointed to it repeatedly as one of philanthropy’s most clear-cut success stories. Dr. Soskis’s study does attribute significant impact to philanthropy, but also paints a more complex picture.

This is the first case study Dr. Soskis has completed. He is currently working on a similar study focused on the role played by philanthropy on the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. We hope to share that (and other case studies) in the future.

Read the case study of the Health Care for the Homeless program (.docx)