Bild: KOBU Agency, unsplash

Clear data instead of perso­nal network only

During this year's conference of the European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP) researchers showed that the data on the social significance of philanthropic actors in many European countries is thin. However, researchers presented emerging and growing databases on philanthropic activities.

“Phil­an­thropy is indis­pensable for society in many count­ries. Yet it is often trea­ted as irrele­vant at the policy level.” — a provo­ca­tive thesis put forward at this year’s confe­rence of the Euro­pean Rese­arch Network on Phil­an­thropy (ERNOP).

The confe­rence panel on “Coll­ec­ting Data on Phil­an­thropy” discus­sed ways in which phil­an­thropy can receive more atten­tion in the policy arena. For exam­ple, a regu­la­tory frame­work for more effec­tive phil­an­thropy could be streng­the­ned and colla­bo­ra­tion between nonpro­fit orga­niza­ti­ons (NPOs) and govern­ment could be fostered.

The need for data

The ERNOP confe­rence is a scien­ti­fic confe­rence where rese­ar­chers from all over Europe present their rese­arch. To describe the phil­an­thro­pic sector, we need data. This allows us to better under­stand how diffe­rent actors behave and to provide evidence for their important contri­bu­tion to society. Concre­tely, such data, for exam­ple, includes the speci­fic number of NPOs in a coun­try or infor­ma­tion on their assets or giving volume.

Such figu­res and data provide a solid argu­men­ta­tive basis for phil­an­thropy and its contri­bu­tion to the common good of a society. This could create more atten­tion to the socie­tal rele­vance of phil­an­thropy on the policy level. During the confe­rence, howe­ver, rese­ar­chers show that the data on the social signi­fi­cance of phil­an­thro­pic actors in many Euro­pean count­ries is thin.

When the cat bites its own tail

There are many reasons why the data situa­tion is weak. On the one hand, the under­stan­ding of what is meant by phil­an­thropy and which actors are part of it varies from coun­try to coun­try. Legal requi­re­ments regar­ding which actors have to regis­ter in the commer­cial regis­ter, for exam­ple, are very libe­ral in many count­ries. And the fact that the phil­an­thropy sector recei­ves little poli­ti­cal atten­tion does not help to mobi­lize govern­ment resour­ces to coll­ect such data. The cat is biting its own tail, so to speak.

Howe­ver, during the confe­rence, rese­ar­chers from diffe­rent count­ries in Europe presen­ted emer­ging and growing data­ba­ses on phil­an­thro­pic acti­vi­ties. The data shows a clear growth of the sector — measu­red in the number of orga­niza­ti­ons and finan­cial figu­res — in the diffe­rent countries.

Hopeful and dry conclusion

And so the hopeful conclu­sion of the confe­rence panel “Data Coll­ec­tion on Phil­an­thropy” was that with the impro­ve­ment in data coll­ec­tion, the reco­gni­tion of the social value of phil­an­thropy at the policy level is expec­ted to become stron­ger. One of the rese­ar­chers concluded — some­what dryly and with amuse­ment — by saying that, with clear numbers, he now no longer had to rely exclu­si­vely on his perso­nal cont­acts with poli­ti­ci­ans to make clear the social signi­fi­cance of his field of research.ERNOP as a Euro­pean network of NPO rese­ar­chers contri­bu­tes signi­fi­cantly to the impro­ve­ment of the data situa­tion. In Switz­er­land, the CEPS contri­bu­tes with the NPO Data Lab to provide the public with data and statis­tics from the NPO sector, which the CEPS has been coll­ec­ting by agree­ment for seve­ral years.

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