Category Archives: volunteering

Lunch Talk: “Generalized Trust Through Civic Engagement? Evidence from Five National Panel Studies”

Does civic engagement breed trust? According to a popular version of social capital theory, civic engagement should produce generalized trust among citizens. In a new paper accepted for publication in Political Psychology, Erik van Ingen (Tilburg University) and I put this theory to the test by examining the causal connection between civic engagement and generalized trust using multiple methods and multiple (prospective) panel datasets. We found participants to be more trusting. This was mostly likely caused by selection effects: the causal effects of civic engagement on trust were very small or non-significant. In the cases where small causal effects were found, they turned out not to last. We found no differences across types of organizations and only minor variations across countries.

At the PARIS colloquium of the Department of Sociology at VU University on November 12, 2013 (Room Z531, 13.00-14.00), I will not just be talking about this paper published in Political Behavior and about the new paper forthcoming in Political Psychology (here is the prepublication version). In addition to a substantive story about a research project there is also a story about the process of getting a paper accepted with a null-finding that goes against received wisdom. This story is quite informative about the publication factory that we are all in.

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Update: Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey User Manual

A new version of the User Manual for the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey is now available: version 2.2.

The GINPS12 questionnaire is here (in Dutch).

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Tien Filantropie Trends

  1. Nalatenschappen: goededoelenorganisaties ontvangen steeds meer inkomsten uit nalatenschappen, naar verwachting €86 miljard tot 2059.
  2. Evenementen: goededoelenorganisaties ontvangen steeds meer inkomsten uit evenementen zoals Alpe d’Huzes waar enthousiaste vrijwilligers sponsorgelden voor werven.
  3. Werknemersvrijwilligerswerk: bedrijven sponsoren steeds minder direct met geld, en sturen hun medewerkers liever op maatschappelijk verantwoord teamuitje zoals NL Doet.
  4. Vertrouwen onder druk: het traditioneel hoge niveau van vertrouwen in goededoelenorganisaties daalt structureel en lijdt incidenteel verlies door ophef over salarissen.
  5. Lokalisering: lokale nonprofit organisaties zoals musea en ziekenhuizen gaan fondsenwerven, internationale hulporganisaties ontvangen steeds minder.
  6. Dynamiek in geefgedrag: donateurs zijn steeds minder trouw aan goededoelenorganisaties en doen vaker incidentele giften zoals bij sponsoracties.
  7. Druk op het waterbed: de overheid bezuinigt en probeert burgers meer bij te laten bijdragen, onder meer door fiscale maatregelen zoals de Geefwet.
  8. Meer transparantie:  goededoelenorganisaties in het ANBI-register worden per 1 januari 2014 verplicht openheid te geven over hun financiën en beleid.
  9. Doe-het-zelf filantropie met crowdfunding: steeds vaker werven mensen geld voor hun eigen goede doel via sociale media en geefplatforms zoals
  10. Mega-donors: terwijl de giften van het mediane huishouden afnemen, geven vermogende Nederlanders steeds meer.

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Frequently Unanswered Questions (FUQ)

Dear journalists, before we embark on a journey along all too familiar landscapes, please read this.

Q (Question) 1. Mr. Bekkers, you study ‘giving to charities’. How do you know whether a donation to a charity is well spent?

  • U (Unanswer) 1. Well, I don’t, actually. Indeed my research is about giving to charities. I do not study how charities spend the funds they raise. I can tell you that donors say they care about how charities spend their money. In fact this is often an excuse. People who complain about inefficiency of charities are typically those who would never donate money in a million years, regardless of whatever evidence showing that donations are efficient.

Q2. Mr. Bekkers, what is the reason why people give to charity?

  • U2. There is not one reason, there’s 8 different types of reasons, also called ‘mechanisms’, buttons you can push to create more giving. You can read more about them here. You said you wanted fewer reasons? Well, I can give you a list of four reasons: egoism, altruism, collectivism, and principlism. Oh no, there’s only three types of reasons: emotions, cognitions, and things we are not aware of. Wait, there’s only two reasons: truly altruistic reasons and disguised egoism.

Q3. Speaking of altruism, isn’t all seemingly altruistic behavior in the end somewhat egoistic?

  • U3. Yes, you’re probably right. I would say about 95% of all giving (just a ball park figure) is motivated by non-altruistic concerns, like being asked, knowing someone who suffered from a problem, knowing someone who benefited,  benefiting oneself, getting tax breaks and deductions, social pressure to comply with requests for donations, feeling good about giving, having an impact on others, feeling in power, paternalism, having found a cookie or something else that cheered you up, or letting the wife decide about charities to keep her busy and save the marriage.

Q4. Sorry, what I meant to ask is this: does true altruism exist at all?

  • U4. No, probably not, but we don’t know. Nobody has ever come up with a convincing experiment that rules out all non-altruistic motives for giving. Many people have tried, but they have been unsuccessful. It is hard to eliminate all emotions, cognitions, awareness of the donor about the consequences of the donation.

Q5. I mean, isn’t all giving in the end also about helping ourselves, like when you’re feeling good about giving?

  • U5. That could be right, we can’t rule out the ‘warm glow’ without blowing out the candle. But if you would only be interested in feeling good, then having a chocolate bar might be a lot cheaper.

Q6. Why do people volunteer?

  • A1. See U2 above. In many respects, giving money is like giving time.

Q7. Are you a generous man yourself? What do you give to charity?

  • U6. I am not at liberty to answer this question.

Q8. How much do we give in the Netherlands?

  • A2. Read all about the numbers in our Giving in the Netherlands volume, published biennially. A summary in English is here. These estimates are about 2013. Meanwhile, we have published estimates about 2015 (in Dutch, here). Total giving in the Netherlands is worth about €5.7 billion, 0.85% of GDP.

Q9. Is it true that the Dutch are a very generous population?

Q10. Is altruism part of human nature?

  • U8. I will answer this question with the only decent scientific answer a scientist can ever give: “Well, it depends”. In this case, it all depends on what you call ‘altruism’ (and ‘human nature’ of course). If you view helping in the absence of rewards spontaneously and repeatedly toward humans and conspecifics as altruism, then chimpanzees are altruistic; if you view cooperation in order to maintain mating access to single females against other males as altruism, bottlenose dolphins are altruistic; and if you view promoting chances of survival of your genes as altruism even maize plants can be  altruistic.

Hattips to Roel van Geene and Melissa Brown

Updates: July 16, 2014; June 14, 2019

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Five Years of Research Ahead

As of January 1, 2013, I am appointed as an extraordinary professor Social aspects of prosocial behavior at Faculty of Social Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. The chair is supported by a grant from the Van der Gaag Foundation of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) for a period of five years. In my research I will focus on the explanation of philanthropic behavior. Why do people volunteer and why do they donate money to charitable causes? Who gives the highest amounts and is most likely to volunteer? In which circumstances do people become more generous? How does giving behavior change over time?

The economic crisis as well as cutbacks in government subsidies have recently made these questions more relevant. But the significance of philanthropy increases not only in policy and the media. Also in academia the study of philanthropy is becoming more popular. The number of studies on philanthropy has increased strongly. The new chair strengthens the international position of VU University. Since 1995 VU University conducts the biennial Giving in the Netherlands Survey, which yields macro-economic estimates of giving and volunteering in the Netherlands. I have contributed to this research since 2000, focusing on methodological quality and explanations of philanthropic behavior. In the past decades an increasing number of studies has been published on philanthropy in a variety of scientific disciplines that are often out of touch with each other. In my research, I try to connect explanations for prosocial behavior from psychology, sociology, and economics, using a variety of methods including surveys and experiments.

After I completed my PhD dissertation at Utrecht University and a five year follow-up research taking an in depth look at the relationship between education and prosocial behavior, financed by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), I moved to VU University Amsterdam in 2010. As an extraordinary professor I will conduct research on social determinants of prosocial behavior, particularly of philanthropy. To what extent is giving behavior contagious, and transmitted through social influence? How will cutbacks in government funding affect giving behavior? Will citizens compensate declining subsidies with increasing donations to charitable causes and more volunteering? How does increasing ethnic diversity affect philanthropy? In answering these questions, the methodological quality of the new research will be of key importance. In my inaugural lecture at VU University Amsterdam on April 25, 2013, I will present this research agenda.

Klik hier voor een Nederlandse versie van deze tekst.

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New government coalition agreement: what’s the news for the voluntary sector?

Less than seven weeks after the general elections in the Netherlands – a record in the nation’s history – conservative party leader Mark Rutte and social democrat leader Diederik Samsom presented their new government coalition agreement on October 29, 2012. The agreement consists of 81 pages of policy decisions, including budget cuts amounting to $20 billion. So what’s the news for the voluntary sector in the agreement?

Well, that’s not very clear. The voluntary sector is not mentioned explicitly in the agreement. It is almost as if private action for the public good does not exist. There is no mention at all of philanthropy, charitable giving, donors, volunteering, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, or foundations. One has to read closely to find both the good and bad news for the voluntary sector.

First the good news: there is nothing in the agreement about the charitable deduction. This means it will be retained. Despite the recent advice of an income tax review committee to cut the charitable deduction, the coalition agreement does not mention the issue at all. The committee’s advice met with severe criticism from a variety of experts after its report was released.

Then the not so good news. The gambling market will be liberalized. As of 2015 all lottery permits will be handed out through an ‘auction or beauty contest’. This means that all lotteries, including state and charity lotteries, will have to compete for new permits. The auction will generate income for the state, at the expense of the lotteries. Also the competition makes funding for nonprofit organizations from lotteries uncertain.

Finally the bad news: funding for service learning programs in secondary education will be cut. The previous government introduced obligatory service learning programs for all students in secondary education, taking effect in 2012. With the first cohort of students just under way, the new government cuts funding for the programs. This means that the investments of schools into the development of the programs are lost and that the infrastructure cannot be financed anymore with government funds. It is likely that many schools will stop the programs that were popular among students. A striking detail is that the head of the commission that reviewed education policy changes in the past decade, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is the new Minister of Finance. One of the recommendations of the Dijsselbloem committee was not to chance education policy unless rigorous research has shown positive effects of any new changes. The abolishment of service learning does not meet that criterion.

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Do prosocial persons have more children to increase fitness?

A recent article published by Austrian anthropologists Martin Fieder and Susanne Huber in the high profile online journal PLosONE suggests that prosocial persons have more children because this increases ‘fitness’. The study compares the number of children in 2004 by respondents in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey (WLS) who report doing volunteer work as a form of prosocial behavior or not. The finding is that male volunteers have a higher number of children than males who do not volunteer, while female volunteers have a lower number of children than females who do not volunteer.

In itself this difference does not say anything about the fitness of prosociality. The difference could result from many other factors that were not measured in this study, such as religion. Also the direction of causality is unclear. Volunteering by persons with children is often benefiting the children indirectly, e.g. when parents volunteer at the schools or for sports clubs of their children. In these cases the volunteering is the result of having children rather than the other way around. It could be argued of course that a prosocial attitude is underlying both having children and doing volunteer work. This is in fact the assumption in the article – the authors do not measure prosocial attitudes directly, but use volunteer work as a proxy.

If the results from the WLS reflect a biological universal, the regularity should be found in other parts of the world. An analysis of data from the Netherlands however shows exactly the reverse pattern. The Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey (GINPS) includes measures of the number of children, gender, volunteering, and prosocial attitudes – the construct that was not measured in the WLS. Here are the results.

Figure A shows that male respondents who volunteered in the past year had about the same number of children (0.76) as the male respondents who did not volunteer (0.74, difference NS). The female respondents who volunteered, however, had a larger number of children (1.01) than the female respondents who did not volunteer (0.81, p<.008).

Figure B shows the number of children among respondents with a high score on the altruistic values scale included in the GINPS. This scale measures the importance of helping others, the willingness to share one’s possessions with others, and the value attached to engaging in charity work. Male respondents with an above average score on the altruistic values scale had fewer children (0.68) than male respondents with a below average score on the altruistic values scale (0.82, p<.049). Among female respondents there was no difference (0.91 vs. 0.88, NS).

These results stand in contrast to the findings by Fieder & Huber using the WLS. The differences in the number of children between volunteering and non-volunteering males and females do not reflect a biological universal. Also the differences in the number of children between respondents with high vs. low altruistic values – a closer measure of prosocial attitudes than volunteering – do not align with the differences between respondents engaging in volunteering and respondents not engaging in volunteering. If anything, one would conclude that males in the Netherlands have more children when they are less prosocial, and that females in the Netherlands who volunteer have more children than females who do not volunteer, but that this is not due to a more prosocial attitude among those women who volunteer.

Fieder, M. & Huber, S. (2012). The Association between Pro‐Social Attitude and Reproductive Success Differs between Men and Women. PLoS ONE 7(4): e33489.

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