BARRIERS - Policy recommendations to remove third sector barriers in the Netherlands

On the basis of a survey and a stakeholder meeting organized in March 2016, the Dutch TSI team formulated a number of policy recommendations to address the challenges experienced by TSOs in the Netherlands. We are inviting you to review our recommendations and give us your feedback. For background reading please refer to the national barriers report and the full policy brief.

1.    Towards more sustainable funding

Funding is a challenge for many TSOs in the Netherlands. In the online survey, representatives of organisations draw a mixed picture about their financial situation. While a majority of TSOs is in general content with their financial situation, a growing number of TSOs have reported difficulties in acquiring the necessary funds for facilitating and developing their organizations.

Interestingly, private donations and sponsoring are by many respondents considered to be more reliable than government funding. Commercial income and access to capital markets are only relevant for a minority of TSOs. These TSOs experience problems with the access to capital markets. About half of TSOs (47 %) report that new forms of private funding, e.g. crowd funding, are becoming more important for their organizations.

Common to all TSO is that the relevance of fundraising activities has increased. 37.3 % of TSOs strongly agree that their organization devotes more resources to fundraising now than it did then years ago. As a result of the increased significance of fundraising, TSOs invest more in PR, communication and impact measurement in order to better show the results of their work: “It is not enough to be a charitable organization anymore. You have to proof that achieve your objectives and create impact.”

Recommendations to donors and state institutions:

  • Invest in more sustainable funding mechanism to foster the development of TSOs;
  • More strongly involve TSOs in public service delivery at the local level;
  • Specify the tasks and functions for the third sector to enhance government-third sector cooperation.

Recommendation to TSOs:

  • Unite in third sector networks for synergy effects and the exploration of new sources of funding;
  • Explore new forms of private funding;
  • Exchange best practices in fundraising and financing within the third sector and through umbrella organizations.

2.    Overcome third sector bureaucratization

Public funding for TSOs is increasingly acquired via competitive grants and contracts with public authorities. The accountability requirements for grants and contracts are high. Participating in grant competition or public tenders is often time consuming for TSOs. Bureaucratization is therefore often mentioned as a challenge to third sector development. 39% of respondents think that government regulations form an impediment for the development of their organization. About one third of the respondents (34.5%) agree with the statement that their organizations have to invest a lot to meet the requirements of government regulations. An additional problem is that public grants and contracts often work with a one-year funding cycle. As a result, TSOs find it hard to make longer-terms planning and invest in the sustainability of their organizations.

Recommendations to public authorities:

  • Ease the requirements for public funding without losing attention for accountability;
  • Provide different modes for cooperation and funding tailored towards the needs of the third sector.

Recommendations to TSOs:

  • Improve exchange among TSOs through umbrella networks;
  • Strengthen the advocacy function of the sector with the aim to increase influence on regulation.

3.    Strengthen the quality of voluntary work

Traditionally, volunteering has been the backbone of the Dutch third sector. Recent research of Central Agency for Statistics shows that voluntary engagement remains high in Dutch society: About 49% of the Dutch population above 15 year of age has been engaged in voluntary work for an organization at least once per year. However, over the past years, the forms of voluntary action have been changing in the Netherlands. New forms of communication, e.g. internet and social media, allow for a broad spectrum of voluntary activities, e.g. volunteering via the internet, flexible volunteering and new initiatives outside the traditional voluntary organisations. In addition, there is a trend towards more flexible, tailor-made forms voluntary work in the Netherlands. Many volunteers want to become active on a short-term basis, e.g. for a cultural festival or other event, rather than being committed to an organisation for a longer time.

These developments are challenging for traditional voluntary organisations. The organisations need to respond to the expectations of (prospective) volunteers. The recruitment of volunteers has become more difficult, as volunteers can chose among different opportunities. Therefore, organisations need to invest in the quality of voluntary work in order to attract and bond volunteers to the organisation. The management or coordination of volunteers needs to be flexible to meet the demands of the volunteers and needs to focus on the quality of voluntary work. The relationship between volunteers and professional staff members in voluntary organisation is changing.

Recommendations to public authorities:

  • Invest in voluntary support structures by offering a consistent legal framework for volunteers;
  • Support voluntary coordination and training.

Recommendations to TSOs:

  • Invest in the quality of voluntary work by focusing on volunteer qualification, training and coordination;
  • Establish productive links between new voluntary initiatives and the established third sector.

4.    Improve the public image of TSOs

The public image of TSOs in the Netherlands is in general very positive. The high rates of volunteerism and of private donations for charitable purposes show that third sector organisations enjoy the support of wide parts of the Dutch population.  However, many organisations also explained that it has become more difficult to explain their added value for society. Whereas in the past it was sufficient to have a good reputation, the organisations are now required to show the effectiveness of their work. In addition, the population has become more critical towards TSOs and demands more accountability and transparency. TSOs need to invest more in strategic planning and public relations. For many third sector organisations, it becomes more important to work with the media and to use social media channels to present their results.

Financial scandals in some organisations, e.g. embezzlement and cases of corruption, have had a negative impact on the sector as a whole. Over the past decade, large semi-public organisations in the Netherlands have especially been facing criticism from the public. Many of these organisations have been perceived to be bureaucratic and non-transparent. In some policy fields, e.g. in refugee assistance and international aid, TSOs have experienced a decrease in trust and solidarity. Overall the support for third sector in the Netherlands has not diminished over the past two decades.

Recommendations to public authorities:

  • Communicate the relevance of the third sector and of voluntary effort to the general public;
  • Maintain and strengthen civic education programmes.

Recommendation to TSOs:

  • Improve the public image of the sector through closer and more visible cooperation;
  • Invest in umbrella organisations and networks;
  • Connect with new forms of civic engagement to prevent a gap between traditional TSOs and alternative initiatives.

5.    More impact through better cooperation: Strengthen the links across the sector

The third sector in the Netherlands is very diverse. This hampers cooperation among the organizations. Vertical ties within one policy fields, e.g. sports or social services, are often more developed than horizontal ties among TSOs of different policy fields.

In the online survey, cooperation within the third sector is in general evaluated as positive. A majority of respondents also regard the cooperation with government institutions as positive or very positive. Only a minority thinks that cooperation with government institution is negative. Cooperation within TSOs in one policy field is evaluated even better. Here, an overwhelming majority of TSO representatives speak about a positive or very positive relationship.

Recommendations to public authorities:

  • Support umbrella organisations as voices of the third sector;
  • Facilitate exchange between policy actors at the local level.

Recommendations to TSOs:

  • Unite with other TSOs and strengthen cooperation and exchange across policy fields;
  • Improve the advocacy function of the third sector.
Do you agree with the policy recommendations we formulated ? Do you think that something important is missing? What are the challenges your organisation is facing? We see this policy brief as the start of a discussion and are looking forward to your response. You are welcome to post in Dutch!