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Time again for ISTR’s popular PhD seminar

Being a PhD student has never been easy! Learning the ropes, networking, writing and presenting papers, attending courses and much more. For us, when we were students, it was very much learning-by-doing process, and an important source of support in this process were the fellow PhD students and senior scholars we met at conferences and seminars along the way. It is because of these positive experiences from peer support groups that we are so enthusiastic about the ISTR PhD seminars. Therefore we very much look forward to next year’s event in Amsterdam, which takes place two days prior to the ISTR conference at Vrije Universiteit.

To that event we are warmly welcoming an exciting group of around 50 PhD students from many corners of the world. They will present and discuss their projects in a friendly environment facilitated by 12 senior scholars that are all engaged in civil society issues and committed to supporting junior scholars in their endeavors.

PhD Seminar 2014

2014 PhD Seminar Students – Muenster, Germany

Previous seminars have also offered a keynote lecture as well as workshops around various topics. This has been very popular, so we will continue this appreciated tradition. In addition to the work we will do facilitating peer feedback on the students’ research, we are also planning workshops around issues such as getting published, post-doc careers abroad and work-life balance.

However, ISTR’s PhD seminar is not only about projects, workshops and professors giving speeches. It is also a tremendous opportunity where we can create a sound foundation for future civil society research by connecting with scholars from all over the world, supporting and learning from each other, meeting old and new friends and just having a lot of fun.


Pelle Åberg Co-chair, ISTR PhD Seminar and Associate Professor, Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College, Stockholm, Sweden

Foto van Ophem

Rene Bekkers
Co-chair, ISTR PhD Seminar
Professor, Director of the Center  
for Philanthropic Studies
Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam, the Netherlands













The holidays in the Netherlands: “Putting the ‘fun’ in fundraising”

The holidays are coming up, which is supposed to bring out the good in people, making it a good season for fundraising campaigns. In the United States there is Giving Tuesday, the philanthropic counterpart of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In the Netherlands we have 3FM Serious Request, which by now has come to be a solid part of our holiday traditions.

Serious Request is a fundraising event organized by the 3FM radio station, in collaboration with the Red Cross. The 6 days before Christmas Eve, DJ’s from the radio station will live in a house made of glass, positioned somewhere on the main square of a city in the Netherlands. They will not eat for the entire period, and will be working 24/7 while people from all over the Netherlands come to visit them, request songs, and contribute to their cause.

serious request glass house

The 2016 edition of ‘the House of Glass’ took place in the Dutch city of Breda and raised €8,7 million for the violence against women in conflict areas program of the Red Cross.  

The goal of the event is to draw attention to, what they call, a silent disaster. The whole country mobilizes around this time of the year to come up with the most creative and jolly activities to raise money for the cause. In the past, these activities have included celebrities having a sleepover at the house with the DJ’s, individuals crocheting and selling hats, and whole schools organizing entire fundraising weeks.

This year, the DJ’s will enter the house in the city of Apeldoorn to raise funds to provide the Red Cross with the means to reunite families that have been ripped apart because of disaster or conflict.

Since the start in 2004 the amounts that have been raised have reached incredible heights, as shown in the figure below. figure graphic

Last year’s edition of Serious Request has reached almost 10 million people through the radio, TV and internet. Furthermore, the initiative has successfully spread to several countries within Europe, Africa and Asia.


Given that the amounts of money raised are very high, and the number of people involved are enormous (even during crisis years and in a country that lately is deeply divided on many topics). This makes you wonder; what makes this particular initiative so successful year after year?

Is it that there is a concrete goal specified? Is it that the DJs grand gesture inspires people to want to do their part? Is it actually the holiday spirit (whatever that might mean)? Or maybe it is related to the diminishing hours of sunlight, or just the drop in temperatures?

This is where science comes in; whether it is psychology, biology, economics or political science, research from all sorts of disciplines can identify some of the mechanisms working here. If we can find out what the drivers are, perhaps we could consider replicating this elsewhere.

Thanks to Vera Cuijpers, junior researcher at the Center for Philanthropic Studies at VU Amsterdam, for this contribution.

ISTR in Amsterdam, here we go!

The biannual conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research will gather researchers from all over the world. Our team at The Center for Philanthropic Studies at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam  is delighted to welcome you all to our campus and introduce you to the Dutch society of third sector practitioners and academics. For us, it will be a great opportunity to showcase the relevance of research in this field, contributing to the rise of modern philanthropy at the societal, political and policy agenda’s in the Netherlands.


Philanthropy in the Netherlands blossomed during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century) when many initiatives were undertaken for the socially disadvantaged. The picture above is the ‘Platanenhof’ a neighbourhood built for the elderly in the Jordan district of Amsterdam.

The civil society sector in the Netherlands has be receiving growing attention in recent decades, but can it still cannot be considered a mature sector. Philanthropy and the civil society are an unquestionable part of Dutch history, but because as it has been largely neglected for years, and has also insisted on its freedom to operate independently, civil society organizations haven’t focused on developing their own coherent sector. The quality of organization in the CSO sector is still in its early adolescence. What stages do organizations have to go through to be able to present a coherent and collective front? The sector needs a mission and a vision.

The sector has to be integrated into our welfare state model – a very difficult step to take. The philanthropy sector is barely organised, which makes it very hard to present a collective front to the authorities. Official bodies have a difficult time working out who they should deal with and who they should consult.

Also, the philanthropy sector, and CSOs more broadly, have to professionalize in order to become a mature sector. To do this, the sector urgently needs help from the scientific community, because scientific research and teaching are ‘conditio sine qua non’  to gain prestige.

More serious is the fact that many policymakers know little about what CSOs and philanthropic organizations actually do. In addition to this knowledge gap, government agencies and policymakers are often very hesitant about making contact with philanthropic organizations and reaching agreements with them. This attitude can be explained partly by the prejudice that still exists with regard to ‘philanthropy’. Wasn’t the welfare state created precisely in order to put an end to charity and philanthropy? Didn’t the welfare state mean the defeat of patronizing attitudes, paternalism and dependence?

 These questions are being addressed by scholars, not only in the Netherlands, but all around the world. The ISTR conference offers us the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned in other country contexts and strengthen our own work at home.

Democracy and Legitimacy:  The Role of the Third Sector in a Globalizing World is the 2018 theme of the ISTR conference. With the aim of addressing the potential and existing shortcomings of the organizations we study, the Amsterdam conference of ISTRs will offer suggestions for a way forward for sure.

See you in Amsterdam!

On behalf of the hosting committee,

foto © Bart Versteeg 14-06-11

Theo Schuyt

Professor Philanthropic Studies

Center for Philanthropic Studies

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Call for Papers – Deadline 27 October

This is a friendly reminder that abstracts can be submitted until 27 October 2017 for the 13th International Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10-13 July 2018.
Conference theme: Democracy and Legitimacy:  The Role of the Third Sector in a Globalizing World
Please click on this link to read the full call with instructions for submission: CALL FOR PAPERS 
We look forward to seeing your abstract for Papers, Panels, Roundtable, and Posters


Deadline Approaching: ISTR 2016 Conference Working Papers Series

Please be reminded that submissions to the ISTR Conference Working Papers Series are due no later than this Friday, 30-September.

Please submit your paper to   All papers will be reviewed by a small committee (this is not a blind review) and posted on the ISTR website in December, 2016.  The ISTR Working Papers Series can be found at     For any questions regarding the Working Papers Series, please contact the Secretariat.  We look forward to your submissions.

Launch of the ISTR’s International Comparative Project on Institutional Philanthropy

At the ISTR Conference in Stockholm, a capacity-filled roundtable engaged a dialogue between researchers and a panel of foundation leaders about the state of knowledge about institutional philanthropy at the occasion of the ISTR’s launch of its Institutional Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy. Session moderator Bernard Enjolras from the Institute for Social Research in Oslo and coordinator of the ISTR’s International Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy provides a description below.

Though knowledge about the world of institutional philanthropy, especially the world of foundations, is relatively available in the U.S. and to some extent in Europe, we lack knowledge about the importance of institutional philanthropy in many parts of the world. Additionally, even where knowledge about institutional philanthropy is available, this field has received much less scholarly attention than the public and business sectors and their organizational forms. The task of comparing institutional philanthropy in a cross-national perspective is largely unachieved and impeded by two persistent obstacles: the imbalance concerning the availability of empirical data between countries and world-regions, and the diversity of institutional forms and cultural understandings and practices characterizing institutional philanthropy in different national settings.

Insofar as much of scholarly research on institutional philanthropy has been informed and influenced by the American understanding of the grant-making foundation, a comparative perspective needs to develop a concept which, from the outset, does not limit the investigation to a subset of institutions and practices bounded to a cultural and national setting, but, on the contrary, encompasses the very diversity characterizing its research object. ISTR’s International Comparative Project on Institutional Philanthropy aims at improving our knowledge of institutional philanthropy worldwide (differentiated from individual giving and other third sector manifestations), understood as the use of private resources oriented toward the public good within an institutional setting.

ISTR International Comparative Roundtable

Because philanthropic institutions have limited resources relative to the issues they address and the causes they pursue, they increasingly seek to maximize their impact by fostering policy innovation and social innovation. Correlatively, for philanthropic institutions, having access to accurate and up-to-date information about philanthropic activity in different countries and fields is critical for enabling them to actualize their innovative potential and to maximize their impact. In spite of the strategic importance of reliable and relevant knowledge on philanthropic institutions’ activities and capacity to innovate, results from systematic cross-country comparisons studies are few.

Hence, the ISTR’s International Comparative Project on Institutional Philanthropy aims at improving the state of knowledge about philanthropic institutions’ innovative capacity globally and in a comparative perspective. More precisely, the project will consist in (i) clarifying the concept of “institutional philanthropy” in its diverse manifestations, (ii) mapping of the world of institutional philanthropy worldwide, and (iii) an inquiry into the ways by which institutional philanthropy  innovate worldwide, and (iv) building research capacity and facilitate cooperation among researchers and research institutions.

  • Clarifying the concept of “institutional philanthropy”

One a most challenging issue when it comes to comparative research is the definitional one. Indeed the definition of foundation and the requirements in foundation law vary from country to country. Given the definitional complexity inherent to comparative research, as well as the tendency shown by comparative research to focus mainly on grant-making foundations both for reasons of simplicity and because of the influence of the American tradition, the project emphasizes the need of conceptual clarification under the conceptual umbrella of “institutional philanthropy”.  A central objective of this project is therefore to find common ground around a consensus “working definition” of the institutional philanthropic sector that can be applied cross-nationally.

  • Mapping of the world of institutional philanthropy worldwide

Philanthropic institutions and especially foundations are in many ways the backbone of civil society; they play a critical role in canalizing private funds to value-oriented projects emanating from civil society initiatives. In spite of national studies and partial comparisons across countries there exists no systematic international comparative knowledge about the size, composition, structural features, and developmental trends of the institutionalized philanthropic sector on a global basis. Consequently, a main uncompleted task for the project will consist in mapping and measuring the world of institutional philanthropy in its different manifestations and to contribute to the standardization of data collection at the global level. Such an effort will allow examining cross-national and regional variations in the size, composition, assets, financing, and staffing of the philanthropic sector.

  • Identifying the innovative capacities of institutional philanthropy worldwide 

As many philanthropic institutions and foundations seek to maximize their ability to bring about positive social change, they find themselves emphasizing their capacity to support new ideas, new needs and new solutions, and to influence public opinion and public policy. The project will consequently proceed to a mapping of philanthropic institutions’ innovative initiatives worldwide and address the central issues related to their innovative capacity: How do philanthropic institutions’ innovate? Which types of innovation do they initiate in the fields of education, higher-education and research, health, social welfare, arts and culture, religion, and international philanthropy? By which channels do they innovate, through single issue projects, cooperation with governments – policy development, with other foundations – pilot projects, with the business community or jointly, in collaboration with business, government and other philanthropic actors?

  • Building research capacity and facilitate cooperation among researchers and research institutions

In order to meet the needs of building research capacity within the field of institutional philanthropy, plans to establish a “young professional” fellowship program, offering internships to academics with foundations worldwide, as well as a PhD program associated to the overall project allowing selected research topics to be analyzed by PhD candidates in the academic institutions associated to the project.


Bernard Enjolras is Research Professor with the Institute for Social Research in Oslo and coordinator of the ISTR’s International Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy.