Scientific Council: 'Be on guard against close ties between philanthropy and government'

While there are advantages to cooperation between governments and philanthropic organisations, parties should be on guard against the blurring of roles. 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. Although philanthropy has a significant contribution to make in this regard, its role should not be inflated. Its unique nature should be respected; 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 them. This is the finding expressed in the latest exploratory study carried out by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), which was published today. Until now, no explicit policy vision concerning philanthropy existed in the Netherlands. Through this exploratory study, however, the WRR offers several potential building blocks for such a vision.

Philanthropy is an expression of social resilience

Because philanthropy represents autonomy, innovation and a multiform society, the Scientific Council considers it to be of great significance to 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.

The following co-authors helped draft this exploratory study:

  • Pamala Wiepking – The Netherlands from a comparative perspective
  • Barbara Gouwenberg – Equity funds in the Netherlands: Out of the shadows and into the light
  • Elly Mariani – Using fiscal incentives to promote private charitable contributions
  • Tim Meijers and Ingrid Robeyns – Philanthropy: conceptual and ethical reflections
  • Yvonne Donders and Vincent Vleugel – Philanthropy and human rights: voluntary but not free of obligations
  • Willem Trommel – The state, philanthropy and resilience: On generous giving and greedy government
  • Jan van Dam and Marcel Ham – Intermezzos

Note to editors

The Exploratory study Filantropie op de grens van overheid en markt (Philanthropy at the intersection of government and commerce) (ISBN 978 94 90186 67 8 (edited by Peter de Goede, Erik Schrijvers and Marianne de Visser) will be available from 10:00 on 31 October at www.wrr.nl and may be ordered via info@wrr.nl. For information on the publication, contact Mirjan van Leijenhorst at the WRR (06-26298379 or leijenhorst@wrr.nl).

About the Scientific Council

The Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) is an independent advisory body that provides the Dutch government and parliament with solicited and unsolicited advice on a range of topics, with a view to the long term. Further information on the WRR can be found at www.wrr.nl.