20 July 2021

Philanthropy in the Netherlands, Trouble in Paradise?

The Netherlands are famous for a rich philanthropic culture. Rich can be taken quite literally, as almost all the Dutch donate, and there are thousands of charitable organisations. Each with its own specific background and purpose, as is to be expected of a pluralistic and multicultural society. Although the donations add up to serious amounts, voluntary work might even be more significant. Half of the adult population in the Netherlands is a volunteer. Just imagine monetising all those hours!

Dutch politics and government are traditionally philanthropy-friendly. Only a decade ago the private initiative was celebrated as the so-called “participation society”. Lately, however, the wind blows from quite another direction. The hunt is out for money-launderers and terrorists. Who knows, they might be hiding behind the façade of philanthropy. We, the philanthropic sector, take these concerns seriously. Nobody wants misuse of a sector driven by idealism and public interests. Therefore, we advocate for self-regulation and transparency. It is in the own interest of charitable organisations and foundations to show the public that they are legitimate.

The government has quite a different approach: A multitude of rules and regulations. The problem with this, however, is that the malicious ones do not tend to follow them. Benevolent organisations do and, as a result, have to spend considerable amounts of money and time on compliance. Thereby wasting valuable donation money and voluntary hours. And even worse, governments can misuse regulations to oppose NGOs that are critical, radical, or activist. Here we really must be on our high alert. Other countries, even within the European Union, have shown us that we cannot be naïve and trust the good intentions of a government.

This is my call to action for the PEXcommunity: in your own country, let no new law or regulation that negatively effects civil society and philanthropy pass without scrutiny and critical engagement. On a European level, let’s keep each other up to date and press the alarm button when needed. Together we can uphold the fundamental freedoms and the European value of private initiative.

by Siep Wijsenbeek, Director of the Association of Foundations in the Netherlands (FIN)

This text was originally published as an editorial note of PEXnews.