New exploratory study on philanthropy

While there are advantages to cooperation between governments and philanthropic organisations, parties should be on guard against the blurring of roles. So says the new exploratory study entitled Philanthropy at the intersection of government and commerce, which was published today. Until now, no explicit policy vision concerning philanthropy existed in the Netherlands. This exploratory study, however, offers several potential building blocks for such a vision.

Philanthropy is not an extension of the government. The charitable behaviour of individuals is the result of a personal choice to support a particular cause or causes. The government, on the other hand, does not participate in random acts of charity for which it expects nothing in return; instead, it promotes public issues based on constitutional principles. Philanthropy has a significant contribution to make in this regard. Still, it is best to view philanthropy as a supplement to tasks to which the government has already committed itself. This is why it is vital that the government and philanthropy maintain an appropriate distance between each other.

Philanthropy represents autonomy, innovation and a multiform society. It strengthens the ties between people and between communities. However, it can also provide financial support to controversial causes or play a contrarian role, whether by posing a challenge to the government or even obstructing its efforts. Any democratic state under the rule of law must allow space for this kind of active citizenship. While philanthropy's added value for social cohesion and a multiform democracy justify the use of fiscal incentives (such as making gifts to charity tax-deductible and awarding fiscal benefits to institutions with a recognised public-benefit status), the government should avoid attempts to influence the substance of charitable giving.

Commercialisation of philanthropy: right or wrong?

Philanthropy is becoming more professional, which is a good thing. It leads to greater openness with regard to how it functions. Hybrids of philanthropic and commercial organisations are on the rise. Many equity funds, for instance, develop into social investors who establish agreements with recipients about how the money is to be spent and the quantifiable impact of their donation. Sometimes those investments are aimed in part at achieving financial returns, as in the case of 'social enterprises'. The government can contribute to the recognition and acceptance of such enterprises, to the extent that they are willing to prioritise societal benefit over profit. It is crucial to remain alert to the negative consequences of commercialisation. Actions motivated by business interests may undermine the original philanthropic motive.