Select Page


European Research Network on Philanthropy

Institutional member

Copenhagen Business SchoolCopenhagen Business School (CBS) Logo
Centre for Civil Society Studies


Liv Egholm Feldt
Copenhagen Business School
Centre for Civil Society Studies
email: le.dbp@

The Centre for Civil Society Studies was established in 2013 and has its headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. Major academic disciplines are history, sociology, organizational science, philosophy, political economy, and law. Key research topics of the Centre are foundations as society builders, civic governance, civilizing business, civil society elites, and moral economy. Research questions addressed by the Centre are, among others:

  • How has philanthropic gift-giving practices (conceptualizing, categorizing & organizing) influenced the development of the welfare state?
  • How has the historical changing definitions of “the common good” simultaneously effected philanthropic practices and societal organization?
  • How has, from a comparative perspective, private philanthropy’s gift-giving been regulated and organized over time?
  • What role do elites of and in civil society play in governance structures?
  • Which role does civil society play in civilizing the economy (e.g. through foundations, democratic business, associative governance, etc.)?


Introduction on Giving Research in Denmark

Anton Sylvest Lilleør & Anker Brink Lund[1]

Research on private giving is a marginal field in Danish social sciences. Moreover, the few studies on philanthropy and gift giving that actually have been published primarily take a historical and qualitative approach. The aim has typically been to examine the role of benevolent organisations and civic institutions in the wake of the abolition of absolutism and the constitution of 1849.

Notably, Bundesen et. al. (2001) examined the historical roles of voluntary social organisations in social policy and the development of a welfare system. The argument is that in the transformation from agrarian communities towards an industrialized society the philanthropic organisations helped lay the foundations for a welfare state. As of today, when tax-based welfare services face challenges, philanthropic ideas and organisations are invited by state and market players to play a formative role in shaping society.

In his genealogy of social work, Villadsen (2004) labelled this new development “the return of philanthropy”. In a later critical study of modern welfare provision he identifies similarities between modern welfare and what he calls “good old” philanthropy (Villadsen, 2011). In line with this, Egholm Feldt (2007) deals historically with these relations between the state and grant-giving foundations, demonstrating how bourgeois philanthropy has contributed to shaping the particular Danish type of welfare state.

In addition to these descriptions and historically informed case studies, three developing and more quantitative oriented areas of research deserve mention:

First, comprehensive quantitative studies on voluntary work have been undertaken in the last 10 years, originally as part of the international research project The Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (see, for example, Fridberg & Henriksen, 2014 and Koch-Nielsen et. al., 2006). Voluntary work can be perceived as philanthropy insofar as it is intended for the benefit of others than oneself, for example, by giving time or care instead of money. Furthermore, in the most recent study of voluntary work, a survey-based chapter on the individual giving of money was included (Taxhjelm, 2014).

Second, in 2013 the CBS Center for Civil Society Studies was established in order to advance Danish research on civil society activities. The centre focuses, among other things, on philanthropic foundations, predominantly from quantitative and historical perspectives (see Lund & Meyer, 2011, Lund, 2015, and Lund & Berg, 2015), but the results of this work have not yet been fully published.

Third, charities and philanthropic foundations are subject to considerable attention from think tanks, consultancies and charity associations. Most importantly, ISOBRO*, the Danish Fundraising Association has published analyses on the development in funding of their member organisations (see, for example, ISOBRO & Deloitte, 2014), while a yearly publication from the Danish consultancy Kraft & Partners deals with key developments and tendencies in the industry of foundations, focusing, e.g., on taxation, evaluation and transparency.

In short, Danish research on philanthropy is limited in scope and scale. In the following pages we study what is currently quantifiable about giving in Denmark. We focus on the available monetary data, and do not attempt to estimate the monetary value of voluntary work and membership-based charity, e.g., self-help and church activities.

Overview of Giving in Denmark

Table 1 sums up what we know about the minimum amounts given by individuals, corporations, grant-giving foundations – including Foundation owned Businesses (FoBs) – and charity lotteries.

Table 1 Estimated minimum giving in Denmark in 2013

Sources of contribution million EUR percentage


In vivo





42 %
Foundations 1 200+ 58 %
(Charity) lotteries (244+)

      (State-controlled charity lotteries

       Non-state-controlled charity lotteries



0.5 %
Total 2 072 100 %

Research-based knowledge on these different types of giving in Denmark differs greatly, e.g., we know a lot about giving by individuals, but next to nothing about giving by corporations, and far too little about lotteries – including valid estimates of transaction costs (Møller & Nielsen, 2009). We already have access to data on giving by the two largest state-controlled charity lotteries and an estimate of giving by non-state-controlled national charity lotteries, but the total amount reported should be regarded as a minimum, since we do not have access to the data on the two smallest of the state-controlled lotteries or all the local associational lotteries. Furthermore, one could argue that giving by state-controlled lotteries is more public welfare than charity.

When it comes to giving by individuals we are in better shape. The survey-based data give us an account of giving by individuals in vivo, which, despite being of good methodological quality, might be overestimated due to self-reporting. Data on the funding of fundraising organisations provide a minimum amount of giving by bequest. As regards both corporations and individuals, the tax authorities have very accurate data on giving eligible for tax deductions. The CBS Center for Civil Society Studies in turn has initiated a constructive dialogue with the tax authorities in order to gain access to data of this kind.

It must also be noted that we have not included giving through membership organisations. In a Danish context this renders a notable bias in the area of religion, since 75 % of Danes are members of the national church (Folkekirken), financed by a special (membership only) church tax generating € 771 million in the fiscal year 2013 (Denmarks Statistik, 2013). We have no data documenting giving to congregation churches outside Folkekirken. This task would indeed be a demanding but relevant one to be addressed in future research.

To complete the picture, we also need more information about non-monetary giving. Fortunately, a comprehensive research program is in progress documenting the value of voluntary work and other non-monetary civil society contributions (Boje et al., 2014). 38 % of the population aged 16 years or more volunteer (Fridberg, 2014b: 34). On average these people spend 16 hours a month on voluntary work (Fridberg, 2014b: 43). Not all voluntary work can be perceived as strictly philanthropic, however. Accordingly, we need more research on motives (Habermann, 2001, and Henriksen, 2014: 121-122). Based on these insights it must be emphasized that in order to get a comprehensive account of giving in Denmark, monetary donations must be combined with estimates of gift giving in terms of time.

In line with this, the CBS Center for Civil Society Studies carries out targeted research on giving behaviour by Foundation owned Businesses (FoBs), an area in which Denmark is an extreme case, with an unusually large number of high-spending players (Lund, 2015). An interesting topic for future studies could be comparing FoBs with other forms of corporate giving across Europe – including Business initiated Foundations (BiFs). Both types of business organisations may create blended value (Emerson, 2003), i.e., mixing commercial and philanthropic bottom lines, but significant differences between BiFs and FoBs in giving behaviour are to be expected.

Finally it must be stressed that the relatively few quantitative studies available on Danish philanthropy lack standardized approaches for valuating gift giving. The different data sources are built on a diversity of definitions, a variety of categories and different methodologies, which all together weakens the comparability in terms of input, output, outcome and impact. Future standardization efforts should not, however, be made at the expense of the more qualitative and historical approaches to philanthropy which, as described in the introduction, have led to valuable insights into the peculiar Danish traditions of gift giving by private citizens, lotteries, corporations and last but not least: Foundation owned Businesses.

* The authors would like to thank the general secretary of ISOBRO Robert Hinnerskov for his valuable comments on this work in progress.


[1] CBS Center for Civil Society Studies, Copenhagen Business School

[2] As a general principle, amounts from lotteries that are decided upon by governments or include political interference are excluded from total amounts, because it is not considered as private actor.


Lilleør, A.S. & Lund, A.B. (2017) Research on Giving in Denmark. In:  Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

A comprehensive profile and description of all data sources is available through the member portal.