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European Research Network on Philanthropy

Marie Cederschiöld UniversityMarie Cederschiöld högskola | Kontakt

Centre for Civil Society Research


Johan Vamstad
Centre for Civil Society Research
Marie Cederschiöld University
email: Johan.Vamstad@


The Centre for Civil Society Research at the Marie Cederschiöld University was established in 1992. It is based in Stockholm, Sweden. Major academic disciplines are Political Science, Social Work, Sociology, Business Administration, and History. Key research topics are charitable giving, volunteering, welfare services, voluntary social work, history of philanthropy. Research questions that are being adressed by the centre are, among others:


  • Who gives to what and how do patterns in giving change over time?

  • How are different types of civic engagement combined cumulatively in an active citizenship?

  • What is the significance of giving and volunteering in relation to a universal welfare state, historically, today and in the future?

  • What are the emerging trends in the philanthropic sector in Sweden and what are their significance in a broader perspective?

Introduction to research on Giving in Sweden

Johan Vamstad[1]

Research on giving is a relatively underdeveloped field in Sweden. Charitable giving is widespread and extensive, but the average donation is small and fundraising was until recently carried out by unpaid, non-professional members of a few large charitable organisations. Giving follows the pattern of other civil society activities in Sweden in that it is a popular movement with widespread grass roots organisation and participation. Giving is also influenced by the Scandinavian type of welfare state, which seems to direct donations to international aid and medical research, while domestic medical and social care and education receive fewer donations, both because of a lesser need and a general perception that such causes lie within the realm of government responsibility (Vamstad and von Essen, 2013). Research on giving has, therefore, been sparse in traditional areas of philanthropy studies such as donor behaviour, and economic or psychological theories on giving and fundraising. Instead, much of what research there is, is on the history of social movements. A few historians have written about organisations concerned with charitable causes in the 19th century and their typical objects of study are local philanthropic societies, large social movements like the Labour and Temperance Movements, religious organisations, and large aid organisations like the Red Cross (Förhammar, 1997; 2000; Jordansson and Vammen, 1998; Karlsson, 2012; Plymoth, 2002; Qvarsell, 1993). Research on contemporary giving in Sweden is mainly conducted at the Institute of Civil Society Studies at Ersta Sköndal University College in Stockholm and at the Stockholm School of Economics. Ersta Sköndal University College conducts a recurring national survey of giving and volunteering, and philanthropy is generally studied within the context of other civil society areas such as voluntary work, member organisations, and citizen participation. The institution is multi-disciplinary with researchers representing social work, political science, sociology, business administration, and theology. Research at the Stockholm School of Economics includes some work on economic theories of giving, as well as research on foundations. The researchers are typically in the fields of business administration or economics. Giving and philanthropy are, however, not the primary research fields at either of these two institutions; the research is rather limited. Ersta Sköndal University College employs about 20 civil society researchers, but only three or four of them (for example, Vamstad, von Essen and Svedberg) could be said to be philanthropy researchers. The Stockholm School of Economics has about ten researchers in the civil society field, and two or three of them (for example Breman, Wijkström and Einarsson) conduct research related to philanthropy. There are, in addition to these two centres of civil society studies, a few individual philanthropy researchers spread among various universities and other research institutions in Sweden. Seen as a whole, they represent a diverse set of disciplines, with researchers from history (e.g. Förhammar), social work (e.g. Levander), economics (e.g. Braunerhjelm), ethics (e.g. Romare) health studies, (e.g. Eklöf), and gender studies (e.g. Jordansson). Overall, the Swedish philanthropy research community is small and thinly spread, and there is no major research centre or resource devoted exclusively to the study of philanthropy. There is, however, growing interest in research on giving, driven in a large part by the ongoing professionalization of fundraising in Sweden. There is also emerging interest in newer areas of philanthropy research, like corporate social responsibility and social enterprises, especially in the economic sciences (Frostenson and Borglund, 2006; de Geer, Borglund and Frostenson, 2009; Nilsson, 2009; Gawell, Johannisson and Lundqvist, 2009). It seems plausible that the Swedish research on giving might be catching up with that in other countries, and that Sweden might reach a more “normal” or average level of research in this field. There is, however, still a long way to go before that can be achieved.

Overview of Giving in Sweden


The data on charitable giving in Sweden are lacking in many areas, and it is not possible to make an estimate of the total giving in Sweden with any accuracy. Giving by corporations and foundations is especially difficult to measure, which is a significant limitation considering that charitable giving from these players is potentially substantial. Table 1 illustrates the poor state of the Swedish data sources on giving.

Table 1 Sources of contributions in 2013, 2002 in millions

Sources of contribution million EUR percentage
Individuals 647 45 %
In vivo 545
Bequests 98
Corporations n.a.
Charity lotteries  129,7  9 %
Foundations*  656*   46 %
Total  1 429[3] 100 %


It is difficult to value the significance of a number like € 1 429 million. The corporate giving is missing, but the figures for the other types of giving are also only best guesses. The giving by individuals is measured by the giving to 411 accredited charity organisations. This represents a very significant part of the total giving – probably about 95% or so – but we do not know exactly how much. The giving by charity lotteries is measured by using data from several sources, data that are comparable but not identical. It is also unclear which lotteries should be included; the total giving from popular movement lotteries is € 180 million. The € 129.7 million comes from lotteries in civil society, but one could imagine including State lotteries as they also contribute to private charity organisations. Giving by foundations makes up almost half of the total giving in this table, and it is fairly certain that this type of giving really is the most extensive. The numbers are, however, very old, and it is a painstaking task to go through the 14 500 large foundations in order to update them[4]. The lack of data and the difficulty of combining them have prevented researchers from making an estimate of the total giving for different causes in Sweden. Table 2 is, therefore, a rather original contribution to Swedish philanthropy research. One problem with this table is that we only know the distribution of giving by individuals for the 20 largest organisations, or about 66% of the total. The different causes therefore only add up to € 1 213.6 million.

Table 2 Uses of contributions in 2013

million EUR percentage
Religion 29.5 2 %
Health 116.5 10 %
International aid 251.2 21 %
Public/social benefits (national) 162.2 13 %
Culture 26.3 2 %
Environment/nature/ animals (inter)national 54.1 4 %
Education 62 5 %
Research 444 37 %
Development and housing 29 2 %
Sports 22 2 %
Human rights 13.8 1 %
Other (not specified) 3 1 %
Total 1 213.6 (1 432.5)* 100 %

* Only 66% of giving by individuals included

The single greatest charitable cause in Sweden is, in other words, research. All of this € 444 million comes from foundations, and the numbers are a little misleading since some of the research grants from foundations might not be what we usually think of as charitable. The foundations are in many cases set up by wealthy industrialists, and some of the research is performed in order to provide Swedish industry with new products and ideas.

An interesting finding from this overview is that individuals, foundations and charity lotteries give to distinctly different causes. Giving in Sweden is, according to the established description, directed towards international aid, and other causes not covered by the universal welfare state. The reason for this description is that the research on Swedish giving has focused almost exclusively on giving by individuals. That is, as is clear from this overview, only part of the picture; foundations and charity lotteries do not follow this pattern, and neither do the corporations from what we know about their prioritized CSR projects. The availability of data on giving by individuals has increased in recent years and there is a need for more research in this area. It is clear, however, that the need for more data and more research is even greater in other areas of giving. To create a more complete understanding of all types of charitable giving will be a great challenge for the small, Swedish philanthropy research community.


[1] Ersta Sköndal University College, Stockholm

[3] Amounts may defer due to rounding off.

[4] At time of writing, new data collection by the Stockholm School of Economics is underway and it is likely that these data will be published by the time this report comes out.


Vamstad, J. (2017) Research on Giving in Sweden. 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.

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