How to Run a Conference Panel That Isn’t Horrible

Several ISTR members and friends of ISTR have sent us copies of this blog by Adam Grant.  We thought it resonated and wanted to share it with all of you.  The text of his blog is below.

How to Run a Conference Panel That Isn’t Horrible

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Whenever I go to a conference, the thing I dread most is panels.A typical panel is a show about nothing. Sure, it worked on Seinfeld—but they had comedic geniuses obsessing over the perfect script and a whole cast of skilled actors and producers making it sing. (Though panels do have some recurring characters: I’m sure you’ve met The Rambler, The Spotlight Hog, and The Mansplainer.)

Panels aren’t going away any time soon. Since I end up sitting on them and moderating them on a regular basis, I decided to see if I could fix them.

And by fix them, I mean run a panel that doesn’t ruin your day. Here are my guidelines:

CHOOSING THE CAST

1. Keep it small. In my experience, the best panels have a moderator and no more than two or three guests. Just like in teams, less is more. Larger panels create more communication and coordination difficulties. It’s impossible to find a rhythm with six people on stage. People just sit there waiting to make their point.

2. Invite people who complement each other. I’ve suffered through panels that flop because the participants have nothing in common and because they have totally redundant perspectives. You need a mix of similarities and differences. In psychology it’s called optimal distinctiveness. Every panelist should fit into a common topic but stand out based on having unique insights or experiences.

3. Design for relationships between the panelists. A group of strangers sitting on stage together is a recipe for disaster. A great panel feels like being a fly on the wall for an actual conversation between friends or sparring partners.

Don’t just think about the qualities that you want in individual panelists or moderators; invite people who actually know each other. They’re used to having conversations together, they’re familiar with each other’s views, and they’re more likely to be comfortable debating and disagreeing respectfully.

If they haven’t connected before, have them spend some time getting to know each other. Even a quick email exchange followed by five minutes face-to-face backstage can help build rapport and give time to compare notes on what to cover (and avoid).

SETTING THE STAGE

4. Encourage the panelists to talk to each other. A rookie mistake is when panelists are all having individual conversations with the moderator. That’s just a bunch of one-on-one interviews slapped together—you would never do that in a meeting or at a party.

Maryellen Reilly introduced me to a creative way of nudging authentic discussion: invite each participant to ask a question of one other panelist. Along with catapulting them into a natural back-and-forth, it’s fascinating to see what they most want to learn from one another.

5. Ask them to keep their comments short. The most compelling responses are usually no more than 60 seconds. That’s where you start pushing the limits of conversational attention span and violating the natural flow of back-and-forth. Go longer and you’re just doing sequential monologues. Short answers open the door for burstiness, where it sounds like the panel is literally bursting with ideas. The energy picks up, people veer off script and actually build on one another, and there’s more room for unexpected wisdom and spontaneous humor.

6. Don’t let every panelist answer every question. That immediately devolves into mind-numbing turn-taking. No one has something interesting or informative to say on all the topics.

7. Tell them you might interrupt them. The moderator’s job is to guide the conversation to make it worthwhile for the audience. So if panelists start rambling, you need to jump in with a comment, a fresh question, or a redirect. At first I struggled to do that—I was afraid of being disagreeable. But I found that when I told panelists in advance that I might interrupt them, the awkwardness melted away. It’s not rude to interrupt them once you have their permission.

PREPARING THE SCRIPT

8. Start by asking for a story. Panels fall flat when participants never get to share their knowledge—and the audience has no context for why they’re there. Sometimes moderators try to solve that by reading lengthy bios for each panelist, which is a huge waste of time. Just introduce them with a few highlights that explain why they’re on stage, and invite them each to tell a story on the topic.

As you can hear in a #MeToo panel that I moderated at WorkHuman this spring with Ashley Judd, Ronan Farrow, and Tarana Burke, people come alive when they tell stories. I know that as a panelist, I’m much more entertaining when I tell a story about learning to love criticism or being told I type too loud. And then there are some natural follow-up questions to ask.

9. Pose questions that make the audience—and the panelists—think. The richest questions often start with why (to get at motivation/purpose) and how (to get at strategy/tactics). It can also help to surface tension, which doesn’t have to be with other panelists; you can prompt them to challenge conventional wisdom or their own past experiences.

Two of my favorite questions are “What’s the worst career advice you’ve gotten?” and “What’s something you believed early in your career that you now think is wrong?” Sometimes it helps to give them the questions in advance, both for peace of mind and for reflection time.

Another trick is to have the audience ask their questions at the beginning of the panel instead of the end. As Kumar Garg points out, it helps the panelists get more specific and more practical.

10. Run a lightning round. Come ready with a few questions that panelists can answer in a word or a sentence. Other than an opening story, that’s the only time you want everyone to chime in: it’s a great way to get diverse ideas on the table swiftly and represent everyone’s voice. It can be a fun appetizer early on if there’s a burning question where you want to surface a range of views, a nice interjection to keep the conversation moving if it’s dragging in the middle, or a strong closing if you want to wrap up with a light, memorable Q&A.

It’s always reassuring to hear successful people open up about their vices. What was your worst idea ever? What task do you procrastinate on? When do you feel the most self-doubt?

***

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, a #1 New York Timesbestselling author, and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife. He shares insights in his free monthly newsletter, GRANTED.

Upcoming ISTR Roundtable: Revisiting the Legitimacy and Credibility of NGOs: Readings, Reasons and Research

The following is a guest post reflecting on one of the roundtable sessions at the upcoming ISTR Conference organized by Alan Fowler, Honorary Professor Chair in African Philanthropy, Wits Business School and Professor Emeritus, International Institute of Social Studies and Kees Biekart, Associate Professor International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The problem of trust.  Can non-governmental organisations dedicated to development and humanitarian relief (NGOs) be trusted?  Does their legitimacy matter!  NGOs will surely answer that their credibility is essential.  Without it, fundraising becomes more difficult, supporters retreat, governments become (more) suspicious and media thrive on adding to the negativity.  A recent highly publicized flurry about the behaviour of a few NGO staff and remedial actions taken are a bit of a distraction from the systematic forces that appear to be eroding the legitimacy and credibility that these organisations have built up over many decades.  What is going on and why now?

Ending of a golden era?   A golden decade of NGO legitimacy, public standing and support from official aid agencies started to ebb away as one millennium gave way to another.  Four erosion processes appear to weave together.

Comparative advantages. Really?  One is a challenge to NGO efficacy.  Doubts about NGOs being more effective than other development actors in reaching and working with the billion poor at the base of the pyramid are growing.  Compelling evidence to the contrary is difficult to find.  Faith in NGOs’ comparative advantages in relief and development faded and gave way to many demands to demonstrate results.  Despite the significant investments in monitoring and evaluation, technical difficulties hamper convincing responses.

The accountability challenge.  Legitimacy is also challenged by issues of inadequate accountability to the complex mix of stakeholders involved in who NGOs are and what they do for who.  12 accountability committmentsParticipation principles notwithstanding, feedback mechanisms from intended beneficiaries on the relevance and quality of NGO work remained overshadowed by accountability to those providing resources. The Accountability Commitments set up by leading international NGOs with its twelve commitments shows the range of demands to be met and promises to be kept.  The seriousness of accountability for reputation and negative consequences when perceptions of inadequacy arise should not be underestimated.

Political suspicion.  A further source of erosion for NGO legitimacy is coming from many governments, particularly those whose own legitimacy is open to question.  The ‘shrinking of civic space’ – that is the freedom for citizen action – is tracked by the Civicus Monitor project.  Far more countries limit such freedoms than enable them, while the list and range of restrictive repertoires is growing.  One government strategy delegitimizing NGOs is to declare them as being unelected as well as acting as ‘foreign agents’, beholden to external funders.  Another is to call into question NGO credibility to represent the interest, if not the voice, of those in whose name they operate.  Countering these politically inspired messages to shape public opinion is made difficult by the fact that NGOs are often ‘disassociated’ from the population at large.  In other words, there is often a lack of a strong bonding with the people from which legitimizing support and action should come.

A vulnerable moral high ground.  A fourth force working against NGO legitimacy is associated with organisational morality.  For the past decade or more, a zeitgeist has taken hold that the private sector and market principles may be a better solution to poverty reduction.  The moral underpinnings of the logic of non-profit organisations working for the public good rather than private gain bring an uneven vulnerability to charges of immoral behaviour than is the case when, for example, corporate corruption is exposed.  This might also hold true for #metoo within NGOs.  Their reputations can suffer more from a bad press because business behaviour is not strongly associated with an ethic of fairness or justice.

The knock on effects of reputational set-backs for the NGO community as a whole should not be underestimated, nor should the degree of collective solidarity be over-estimated.  It seems that many NGOs choose for an individual solution to a problem that can better be viewed as collectively shared.

The roundtable will take place Wednesday 11th July, 09:00 – 10:30 in Room 12A 33 and will feature an interactive discussion with Prof. Thea Hilhorst, of ISS, Dr. Irene Guijt of Oxfam UK, Anabel Cruz of Civicus (Uruguay) and Dr. Patricia Mendoça from the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil).  Kees Biekart of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) will facilitate. Click here to see the full ISTR Conference Schedule.

Announcing ISTR’s Closing Plenary Keynotes

Natalie Fenton and Shih-Jung Hsu are ISTR’s keynote speakers for the closing session of the conference on Friday July 13, 2018, entitled Transforming Democratic Contexts: Challenges for the Third Sector.

This session will focus on how civil society responds to disruptions to democracy and climate change.

Natalie Fenton Natalie-Fentonis Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London where she is the co-director of Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. She is also the research lead for Civil Society Futures (CSF) – an independent inquiry into civil society in England in partnership with Forum for the Future, CitizensUK and openDemocracy. Natalie’s own research addresses issues relating to civil society, voluntary sector, political resistance, democracy and the media. She is active in civil society herself as Chair of the Media Reform Coalition and (until recently) as Vice-chair of the Board of Directors for the campaign group Hacked Off – both of which campaign for a free, plural and accountable media. Her latest book is Digital, Political, Radical (Polity 2016).

At the conference, Dr. Fenton will discuss the interim findings from Civil Society Futures: An Inquiry into Civil Society in England – an effort to consider how civil society can best prepare for the futures that may lie ahead.  She will discuss emergent social, political and economic strategies developed from new ways of thinking about how economic and social lives connect through attempts to put more power in the hands of more people.

 

Shih-Jung_HSUShih-Jung Hsu is currently Professor of the Department of Land Economics at the National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taiwan, and is the Director of the Center for the Third Sector.  Dr. Hsu’s research concentrates on local environmental movements, urban and rural planning, land use policy, and sustainable development in Taiwan. He was former president of the Taiwan Association of Third Sector Research (TATSR). He is also a leading activist in Taiwan, and he has established one important NGO — the Taiwan Rural Front (TRF) to help farmers and local residents against land grabbing and forced eviction from the state, and he served as founding president of the TRF. His recent book, Land Justice, has received the National Tripod Award 2017 from the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

Golden Tripod Award

Dr. Hsu received his Ph.D. degree from the College of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, University of Delaware, USA (1995). He also possesses two Masters degrees, one in Political Science from the University of Delaware (1990); the other one in Land Economics from the NCCU (1986).

At the conference, Dr. Hsu will discuss his current research efforts: (1) Land governance and Taiwan’s sustainable development, (2) land use policy and its historical context, (3) environmental and human right NGOs in Taiwan.

 

The PhD Seminar: A bit like coming home for me

The following is a guest post by Mieke Berghmans, former ISTR PhD Seminar participant.

I am one of those PhD students who had the chance to attend two ISTR PhD seminars: a first one in 2012 in Muenster and a second one, two years later, in Stockholm.  Needless to say,  I am very enthusiastic about the whole program. I have been encouraging fellow PhD students to apply too.

The ISTR PhD seminar meant a lot of different things to me. Let me share a few with you.

The ISTR PhD seminar was a great chance for me to meet other academics who are passionate about the same things that I am passionate about. At my home university, my colleagues have a shared interest in education, society and culture. They are all great people with interesting subjects of study. But unfortunately, not one of my colleagues is working on international NGOs, the topic that I love. This made me feel quite ‘lonely’ in the beginning of my research. Attending the ISTR PhD seminar and meeting folks who can talk endlessly about the difference between social movements and NGOs and other ‘sector related’ issues was really a bit like coming home for me.

What I also loved about the ISTR PhD seminar is the ‘formula’ of the small group sessions. In these sessions, students quickly – in five minutes or so – present their work to the group members. After that, the members of the group ask them questions. I hadn’t come across this way of working until I participated in the ISTR PhD seminar. Before that, I had always participated in debates where one person presents his or her work extensively and then a shorter time period is reserved for critical comments, questions and suggestions of the public. The formula used in the ISTR PhD seminar turned this upside down. It reserved more time for the discussion than for the presentation and it allowed the presenter to ask questions to the group.  I must say I found this a very fruitful approach. In this formula, students were not pushed in to a defensive mode. Rather, we could openly present the issues that had us stuck and that we were struggling with, and our fellow group members would spend 45 minutes constructively working with us to look for alternative perspectives and solutions, helping us to get ‘unstuck’ again.

Most importantly, both ISTR PhD seminars were a lot of fun. I had a great time and laughed a lot during the sessions, in the pub, and in the park. Through the seminar I met some great people who became good friends. I look forward to meeting them again in July. See you in Amsterdam!

mieke photo

Mieke Berghmans

Writing a PhD on ‘accountability in international NGOs’ at KU Leuven, Belgium

Crowdfunding to fetch our T-rex: A lot of coins for a lot of old bones

Guest post by Claire van Teunenbroek, 3rd year PhD student at the Center for Philanthropic Studies at VU University. You can read more about Claire’s research on her blog here.

Trix the T.rex: a successful Dutch crowdfunding project

A long time ago far away from Amsterdam, ‘Trix’ the Tyrannosaurus (T-rex) roamed the earth. She stood twelve meters tall, weighed five thousand kilos and had more than 50 sharp teeth of about 20 centimetres long. These days, the T-rex skeleton (lovingly dubbed “Trix,” which is a common Dutch pet name and the nickname for our previous queen) travels through Europe thanks to more than 23,000 Dutch donors. After the tour, the T-rex will be on permanent display at the Naturalis, a Dutch museum of Biodiversity.

The bones of this beautiful female T-Rex, who lived about 66 to 67 million years ago, were found in Montana, USA during an expedition in 2013.  When the cost to collect all the bones and ship them to the Netherlands proved to be too high, the museum started a charitable campaign to collect money to make their dream of displaying a complete T-rex skeleton come true.

Crowdfunding: transparent, democratic and full of rewards

Fortunately for the museum, much of the Dutch population shared their dream and were more than willing to contribute small donations to the cause.  The museum decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign and assembled 5 million Euros in mostly small donations (e.g. most donors gave 10 euros).

Online crowdfunding developed in 2006, primarily in the arts and creative-based industries.  One of the first crowdfunding platforms was the music oriented platform Sellaband, developed in the Netherlands in 2006. Crowdfunding is an increasingly applied instrument; the reward-based crowdfunding platform Voordekunst hosted 712 projects with a success rate of 81% and 40.107 donors contributed a total donation amount of €3.558.549.

piggy bank

An interesting characteristic of crowdfunding is the transparent nature of the funding tool: the solicitor provides a detailed description of how they will use the funds up front.  In the case of our T-rex, the museum had to describe where Trix would be displayed. And because crowdfunding engages more people, it could be described as more democratic than previously used door-to-door campaigns. By donating to the T-rex cause, the Dutch donors were able to validate the campaign to bring Trix to the Netherlands.

Why is the transparency of crowdfunding important?

Worldwide, donors are more critical and conscious about the effect of their donation and expect non-profits to be more open both before and after receiving the donation.   Non-profits that are more transparent about how the funding will be used to have an impact attract more donors.  Moreover, are increasingly involving their donors in conversations and letting the donors take leadership in deciding which projects to start.

Why is the democratic factor in crowdfunding important?

Maintaining transparency after a donation is made is just as important, reflecting a shift from the donor as ‘giver’ towards ‘contributor.’ More than ever, individuals want to do more than opening their wallets, they want to be included and expect some form of a lasting relationship after the donation is made that allows the donor to observe the lasting impact of their donation.

 Crowdfunding for the cultural sector in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, it is not uncommon or new for the cultural sector to turn towards philanthropy as a method of financial survival. Financial aid in the form of donations for the cultural sector can be traced back as far as the Golden Age, when a group called the Maecenas started to financially support cultural institutions and individual artists.

After the financial crisis of 2008, the Dutch economy faced important challenges. First, the government was forced to decrease spending, which especially impacted the cultural sector, which had been heavily dependent on government subsidies.

cultural sector

However, the increasing pressure on philanthropic sources might not be ideal for the cultural sector. Most Dutch individuals (93%) judge the cultural sector as an unimportant goal for the general public. Not surprisingly, the cultural sector receives few donations (12% of the Dutch households donate to cultural projects). In an attempt to fill the financial gap, the government has encouraged an increased support from the third sector. For example, to stimulate donations to cultural projects, the Dutch government multiplied donations made to cultural institutions. However, this strategy did not result in more donations.

Crowdfunding as the next step?

Crowdfunding will not solve all the funding problems of the third sector, but this new funding tool could help to increase the reach of charitable organizations.  I think that crowdfunding is a logical next step for the non-profit sector as government support decreases because crowdfunding is a relatively cheap method for reaching a large crowd. Also, it might attract new donors who are more critically about the return on their investment and are concerned about impact and transparency.   More practically, crowdfunding connects with the current lifestyle of donors who spend daily time online.

Still, the impact of crowdfunding in charity is relatively small; in 2011 only 9% per cent of the Dutch population contributed online to charity organizations. Amounts raised through crowdfunding increase, but they account for less than 1% of giving in the Netherlands.

Trix will be on display at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris during the ISTR Conference (she is currently in Barcelona), but we hope you will come back and visit in 2019 when the museum reopens.

Reflecting on the PhD Seminar experience: Building a community of emerging scholars

Guest post by Christiane Rudmann, 2014 PhD Seminar participant and organizing member of the PhD Seminar Alumni Network

IMG_4657 final 2x3When I received the email that I was accepted to ISTR’s PhD Seminar in Muenster in 2014, I couldn’t believe my luck! I had already been working for 2 years on my PhD at a smaller German university that did not have a nonprofit faculty. It will hardly come as a surprise to hear that I struggled to find the “right” literature, the appropriate conceptual frameworks, or like-minded researchers to discuss and eventually advance my project. The opportunity to attend ISTR’s PhD Seminar changed all of that.

We worked in groups of about 6 PhD students with our always-encouraging faculty members, discussed everyone’s project, asked and were asked many of the critical questions. And I believe we all received valuable advice on how to best proceed, solve a problem, rethink an approach, and just get it done.

P1080349

What was striking to me is that never before had I had to chance to work with a group of fellow researchers – graduate students and senior faculty – in such a respectful, collegiate, and encouraging atmosphere. We came from many a different country and with that from, at times, very different academic backgrounds. Some PhD students had the chance to work on a daily basis with the leading scholars in the field whom others only knew from the books they were reading for their literature review, yet it was always an atmosphere of true peer support where no question was ever off limits or “too simple” to ask.

I had the chance to attend and present at a few other conferences in the field in recent years, including at ISTR in Stockholm, and have to say that, to me, ISTR provides the most welcoming and encouraging setting for researchers to come together, think critically, and leave inspired for future projects. Yet the most wonderful aspect is that some of those researchers have become some of my best friends.

 

It is in that spirit of friendship and collaborative research that we are working towards establishing the ISTR PhD Seminar Alumni Network. We hope to see many of the PhD Seminar alumni in Amsterdam and are thankful that ISTR made sure all the PhD Seminar students and alumni can stay at the same hotel for the duration of the seminar and the conference, with that, providing lots of opportunities to network and to get to know each other.

 

Our Keynote Speaker: Dr. Donatella Della Porta

We are thrilled to announce that our keynote speaker for the upcoming conference is Donatella Della Porta, professor of political science, Dean of the Institute for Humanities and the Social Sciences, and Director of the PD program in Political Science and Sociology at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, where she also leads the Center on Social Movement Studies (Cosmos).

 

Among the main topics of her research are social movements, political violence, terrorism, corruption, the police and protest policing.  She has directed a major ERC project Mobilizing for Democracy, on civil society participation in democratization processes in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, and she co-edits the European Journal of Sociology (Cambridge University Press) as well as the Contentious Politics series at Cambridge University Press.

In her keynote, Innovations from Below: Civil Society Beyond the Crisis, Dr. Della Porta’s keynote will discuss the impacts of the long financial crisis on civil society organizations, which were challenged to address social and political emergencies with declining resources. Despite these challenges, the sector experienced a resurgence of civil society organizations with a high capacity to build alternative knowledge and prefigurate social innovations. Bridging literature from social movement studies and voluntary associations, this keynote will single out new visions and practices of solidarity in the third sector.

 

Born in Catania (1956), she graduated in Political Science at the University of the same city in 1978. In 1980, she received the Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and in 1987 her PhD in Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute.

Dr. Della Porta was formerly a professor at the European University Institute and co-editor of the European Political Science Review (ECPR-Cambridge University Press).  In 2011, she was the recipient of the Mattei Dogan Prize for distinguished achievements in the field of political sociology. She is Honorary Doctor of the universities of Lausanne, Bucharest and Goteborg. She has supervised 80 PhD students and mentored about 30 post-doctoral fellows.

She is the author of 85 books, 130 journal articles and 127 contributions in edited volumes.

 

Publications pictured above are: Late Neoliberalism and its Discontents (Palgrave, 2017); Movement Parties in Times of Austerity (Polity 2017),  Where did the Revolution go? (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Social Movements in Times of Austerity (Polity 2015), Methodological practices in social movement research (Oxford University Press, 2014); Spreading Protest (ECPR Press 2014, with Alice Mattoni), Participatory Democracy in Southern Europe (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014, with Joan Font and Yves Sintomer); Mobilizing for Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2014); Can Democracy be Saved?, Polity Press, 2013;  Clandestine Political Violence, Cambridge University Press, 2013 (with D. Snow, B. Klandermans and D. McAdam (eds.). Blackwell Encyclopedia on Social and Political Movements, Blackwell. 2013; Mobilizing on the Extreme Right (with M. Caiani and C. Wagemann), Oxford University Press, 2012; Meeting Democracy (ed. With D. Rucht), Cambridge University Press, 2012; The Hidden Order of Corruption (with A. Vannucci), Ashgate 2012.

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.

Platanenhof

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

 

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 ISTR_Secretariat@jhu.edu.   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 http://www.istr.org/WPSeries.     For any questions regarding the Working Papers Series, please contact the Secretariat.  We look forward to your submissions.