National Campaigns for Charitable Causes:
An International Perspective


National Campaigns for Charitable Causes is an interdisciplinary and international comparative project around a specific type of fundraising instrument: the national campaign. A national campaign is a fundraising instrument to raise money for nonprofit organizations supporting one particular charitable cause, which can range from people suffering from muscular dystrophy to victims from a natural disaster such as the Tsunami in 2004. National campaigns are organized in many forms across the world, and benefit many different causes, both within and outside the donor's home country. The key characteristic of a national fundraising campaign is its extensive coverage in the national news and entertainment media, which makes it possible to solicit donations from all people living in the country. Examples are telethons, benefit concerts and charitable lotteries.

Aims of the project

This project uses one type of fundraising mechanism, the national campaign, to understand differences in giving to nonprofit organizations in different countries. It shows which characteristics and circumstances lead to higher private contributions to nonprofit organizations, and how these vary across countries due to differences in culture, welfare state policies, and nonprofit regulatory systems. The researchers formulate hypotheses to test explanations for successful (and unsuccessful) campaigns in their own country.

An interesting topic, for instance, is the importance of cultural and geographical distance between people in a donor country and the beneficiaries. Were people in the USA more generous when giving to victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 because they live closer to these victims than people in Europe? What is the effect of government contributions to victims of both the Indian tsunami and the Haiti earthquake? Some governments earmarked extra developmental aid to help the needy, while other local and national governments even donated directly to national nonprofit campaigns. Does government participation crowd in or crowd out private donations?

From a scientific viewpoint, focusing on how one type of fundraising activity varies across countries provides insights into how countries differ in their legal structure, culture, relations among sectors, and mechanisms for accountability, and how these differences influence fundraising. From a practical viewpoint, a comparative case study offers fundraisers in one country the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of their counterparts in other countries, and use this information to redesign their campaigns.

The project aims to be appealing to a large, diverse audience. First, because of the diversity of the scholars involved in the project (from sociology, economy, history, marketing science, political science, and developmental science), their contributions represent different theoretical and methodological perspectives. Second, the project may hold an appeal because of the recent large international interest in understanding national campaigns for charitable causes from these different perspectives, and because of the insights a study of national campaigns can provide for scholarly understanding of philanthropy in general. Finally, non-profit organizations operating or seeking to begin fundraising campaigns will be interested in a discussion of what has worked, and what has not, under which conditions.

The project has the following phases

A preliminary phase consisted of formulating research questions and debating these with possible participants, as well as presenting some preliminary findings. For this purpose we convened the session National campaigns for charitable causes: an international perspective, at the European Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP) Conference, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, in Austria, June 7 2011.

First phase

The first phase consisted of a concerted effort to take stock of the existing theoretical and empirical studies on national campaigns for charitable causes and to study these campaigns in a comparable fashion in small number of countries: the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the USA, for the period 1951-2011.

The following papers were presented at Panel on National Campaigns for Charitable Causes: An International Perspective, 10th international ISTR Conference in Sienna, Italy, July 10-13 2012.

After revision these papers were submitted to, and accepted by, the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ). Currently the following articles have appeared online.

Johan Vamstad and Johan von Essen, Charitable Giving in a Universal Welfare State-Charity and Social Rights in Sweden, first published on November 22, 2012 as doi:10.1177/0899764012466176
Abstract: The aim of this article is to explore how charitable giving is structured in a universal welfare state. The article presents new data based on more than 200 national fundraising campaigns in Sweden during the past 60 years. The varying success of these campaigns for different causes creates a historical pattern of charitable giving under a social democratic welfare regime. Which causes are still considered urgent and appropriate for donations in a country where welfare is considered to be a social right, and how have these attitudes developed over time? More specifically, the article analyses differences in the success of campaigns for domestic and for international causes, including several subcategories of campaigns. The results not only show that Swedes give considerably more money to causes not addressed by the state but also that charitable giving in Sweden is increasing for all types of causes.

Marco H. D. van Leeuwen and Pamala Wiepking, National Campaigns for Charitable Causes: A Literature Review, first published on November 22, 2012 as doi:10.1177/0899764012467084
Abstract: The authors present the first cross-national comparison of more than 300 national campaigns for charitable causes in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United States for the period 1950 to 2011. The authors study frequency and amounts raised, discuss successful and failed campaigns, and review the literature with regard to potential determinants of success. The authors group these determinants into three categories: (a) perceived characteristics of recipients, notably their need, agency, and blamelessness; (b) donor characteristics, such as geographical and cultural proximity, a gain in status or reputation, and material incentives; and (c) structural characteristics of the giving regime, such as the frequency and media formats of campaigns, fundraising rules and regulations, and trust.


The project will continue by expanding in space (other countries), making refinements in methods (e.g. of making the campaign comparable) and theory, and extending the time horizon (earlier and later campaigns, see e.g. the Giga-project on the early modern era. We aim to have other meetings in 2014 and later years at conferences of ERNOP, ISTR and the European Social Science History Confernce (ESSHC) which will next convene in Vienna, 24-27 April 2014.

If you are interested in participating, please contact:

Pamala Wiepking (Rotterdam School of Management and Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Marco H.D. van Leeuwen (Sociology, Dept. of Sociology, Utrecht University)