Event Details

October 24th, 2014
Utrecht CS
Moreelsepark 65
3511 EP Utrecht

Event Description

The TSI National Stakeholder Meeting, convened by Taco Brandsen and Ulla Pape of Radboud University Nijmegen brought together researchers and practitioners of the third sector in the Netherlands. The objective of this first stakeholder meeting in the Netherlands was to discuss the current state of the third sector, discover existing barriers and opportunities for third sector development and thereby identify the most promising research areas for the Dutch study of the Third Sector Impact project.

Prior to the meeting, ten individual interviews with experts and representatives of third sector organisations were conducted to take stock of the current situation of the Dutch third sector. The results of these interviews pointed towards three main areas of discussion: (1) new forms of volunteerism, (2) the changing policy environment regarding the future of the welfare state which in this country is discussed under the header “participation society” (“participatiesamenleving”), and (3) the issue of advocacy and joint identity of third sector organisations in the Netherlands. These three main issue areas formed the basis for the discussion during the first TSI stakeholder meeting in the Netherlands.



Volunteers are traditionally the backbone of the Dutch third sector. Resent research of The Netherlands Institute for Social Research shows that voluntary engagement remains high in Dutch society: about 50 percent of the Dutch population is active as volunteer, a majority spends a couple of hours per months on voluntary work. However, the forms of voluntary action are changing. Our discussion focused on the question what these changes mean for third sector organizations. In particular we discovered that:

  • The character of voluntary action has become more diverse and fluid. New forms of communication technology (internet, social media) allow for a broad spectrum of voluntary activities, e.g. volunteering via the internet, flexible volunteering and new initiatives outside formal voluntary organisations. Communication technology makes it easier for individuals to organize their voluntary activities which means that they become less dependent on traditional voluntary organizations.
  • There is a trend towards more flexible, tailor-made voluntary work. Volunteers become active on a short-term basis, e.g. for a cultural festival or other event, rather than being committed to an organization for a longer time.
  • New forms of voluntary activity include supply-driven instead of demand-driven voluntary work. An example is the foundation “Stichting Present Nederland” that links groups of volunteers to social projects that meet their demands in terms of activity and time expenditure.
  • Volunteers become more vocal about their voluntary commitment. They want to decide by themselves how they get active. Buddy projects were described as a success story, as participants in these projects can organize their work independently and directly see the effect of their work.
  • The links with formal voluntary organisations become weaker. Often, volunteers do not need organizations anymore to organize their voluntary activities.
  • These developments are challenging for traditional voluntary organizations. The organizations need to respond to the expectations of (prospective) volunteers. The recruitment of volunteers becomes more difficult, as volunteers can chose among different opportunities. The more interesting a voluntary position is, the easier it is to find volunteers.
  • As a result of the new, diverse forms of voluntary action, volunteers become more committed to activities than to organizations. Volunteers are less loyal to a particular organization than they used to be in the past. Therefore, organizations need to invest in the quality of voluntary work to connect the individual volunteer to the organisation
  • The new forms of voluntary action ask for another form of management. The management or coordination of volunteers needs to be flexible to meet the demands of the volunteers.
  • The relationship between volunteers and professional staff members in voluntary organisation is changing. In some cases, volunteers have equal or even more professional qualifications than paid staff members. This raises the question about the relation of paid and unpaid work.

In addition to these general developments in volunteerism in the Netherlands, one can observe some specific trends in the sector of health care and social well-being. Due to the reforms of the welfare state, voluntary action becomes more important in social service delivery. In the social sector, one can observe a new trend towards a greater focus on volunteerism. Increasingly, people exchange services and support each other, e.g. in the care for the elderly. These social self-help initiatives can be regarded as active forms of citizenship. This all takes place in the context of a retreating welfare state. The state expects citizens to take up more responsibilities for social well-being. In general this is a positive development, as it strengthens individual responsibility and the ownership of communities. However, there is also a risk that voluntary work is only defined as a means for social assistance.

A specific focus of discussion was the development of volunteerism at the local level. The local embeddedness of voluntary work is an important new trend in the Netherlands. At the local level, new forms of voluntary action are emerging. Local communities, municipalities and neighborhoods play an essential role here. Sometimes, traditional voluntary organisations are failing behind in comparison to new, more informal activities. They are not included in the local consultation mechanism and cannot gain from the trend toward more local voluntary action.


The second discussion of the TSI Stakeholder Meeting focused on the role of the third sector in the so-called “participating society” (“participatiesamenleving”). In the Netherlands the societal debate on the restructuring of the welfare state takes place under this header. Although not unknown before in societal debate, the concept of the “participating society” (“participatiesamenleving”) gained widespread currency in September 2013 when King Willem Alexander used the term to describe his vision of Dutch society “where people create their own future” and thereby “do not only add value to their own life, but also to society at large”. The king’s speech from the throne opened a controversial debate in Dutch media and society with proponents emphasizing the need for individual responsibility and opponents warning of the risk of a retreating welfare state. In 2014, this broader debate was linked to the introduction of the so-called “participation law” (“participatiewet”) which will come into force on 1st of January 2015 and stipulates a far-reaching transfer of financial and organisational responsibilities from the central state to the municipalities. Both the general trend and the introduction of the new law are thought to have significant implications for the context of third sector organisations in the Netherlands

In our discussion we focused on the barriers and opportunities that the development shapes for the Dutch third sector. In general, the practitioners and experts that participated in the stakeholder meeting assessed the “participating society” as a positive development, as it can result in strengthening local ownership and introducing a better small scale organisation in the social sector. Instead of a “participating society” one can also speak about an “activating welfare state”. However, the discussants also warned of the associated risks for society. The gap between people who participate in society and those who do not is increasing. In the social sector, third sector organisations are particularly important; they need to focus on the quality of care and social services.

The new development in this context means that the work for third sector organisations becomes more demanding. There are two possible scenarios for the future. The third sector might either be able to create more space for societal participation, or be merely fulfilling the role of an implementing organisation of the state.

The process of decentralization also has an impact on third sector organizations. With the new law, more tasks need to be taken up by municipalities. As a result, third sector organizations need to redefine their cooperation with municipal administrations and vice versa. In the future, the local level will become more important in social well-being. Community groups will have more say in their neighborhood. However, in some neighborhoods these new forms of consultations function better than in others.

In general, third sector organisations have the task to facilitate social inclusion. With the new development in the social sector, there a risk that some population groups will disappear from the radar of the welfare state. Third sector organisations can help to bring about a more balanced development.


In the third discussion we focused on the issue of advocacy and identity of the third sector in the Netherlands. Advocacy work and a productive relationship with political decision makers were seen as advantage for the Dutch third sector. It was argued many third sector organisations in the Netherlands conduct successful lobby work and have a significant impact on political decision-making processes. Most organisations realize this impact through informal contacts with political decision-makers. This particularly holds true for the larger, country-wide umbrella organisations, e.g. the Association of Dutch Voluntary Effort Organizations. Third sector networks make use of different lobby groups for different advocacy purposes. Furthermore, the media forms an important instrument for advocacy.

In assessing lobby and advocacy work, one needs to distinguish between the public relation activities directed towards the organization and its development and the advocacy regarding the objectives of the organisation. Most third sector organisation focus on a specific policy field and accordingly have network with policy makers and other organisations in this field.

In the discussion we turned towards the topic of advocacy at the local level. The process of decentralization also with regard to advocacy leads to a shift towards the local level. Third sector organisations increasingly attempt to assert influence with regards to local institutions, e.g. municipalities and local organisations. As a result, the organisational landscape has become more diverse. Advocacy work at the local level can show different results. In a positive scenario it can lead to co-creation in the delivery of social services. However, it can also mean that some concern do not receive the necessary attention, as they do not have a strong enough lobby. Overall, advocacy work at the local level implies a stronger personal commitment. People are more affected by local decisions and therefore feel more concerned which can have positive or negative effects. A greater variety of local organisations leads to fragmentation of local advocacy work. For umbrella organisations in the third sector, decentralization also means that the organisations need to focus more on local sub-divisions and partner organisations.

The discussants agreed on the fact that credibility is the most essential ingredient for successful advocacy work. Without credibility with regard to organisational objectives and activities, a third sector organisation cannot conduct effective lobby and advocacy work. In addition, the relationship towards the state forms an important question. In the country as the Netherlands, the third sector can receive government funding and at same time fulfill the function of an independent “watch-dog”. However, the balance in the interrelation with the state is essential for the third sector and needs to be negotiated.



Overall, the National Stakeholder Meeting provided interesting insights into the debate on third sector development in the Netherlands and raised important points of concern which will be followed in the further course of the project.



André Hudepohl (Humanitas en Vereniging Nederlandse Organisaties Vrijwilligerswerk NOV / Humanitas and Association of Dutch Voluntary Effort Organizations NOV), Cees van den Bos (Vrijwillige Inzet Arnhem / Volunteer Centre Arnhem), Willem-Jan de Gast (Landelijke kennisinstituut en adviesbureau Movisie / Netherlands Centre for Social Development Movisie), Maurice de van der Schuere (Onderzoeksbureau Kwaliteit van de Vrijwillige Inzet / Research Agency Quality of Volunteerism’), Myrthe Wijnkoop (VluchtenlingenWerk Nederland / Dutch Council for Refugees), Simone Appelman (Amnesty International Nederland / Dutch Branch of Amnesty International), Taco Brandsen (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen / Radboud University Nijmegen), Ulla Pape (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen / Radboud University Nijmegen), Wouter Mensink (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau / The Netherlands Institute for Social Research).