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Interim balance 2008 – today

Civil society in numbers: „We measure civil society“

We measure civil society

Society faces major challenges. Healthy childhoods, emergency assistance, environmental protection, immigration, international cooperation – local, national and global issues cannot and should not be solved by policy makers alone. Moreover, they cannot and should not be addressed only by market mechanisms or the private sector. The complex challenges society faces cannot be overcome without a functioning civil society and broad-based civic engagement. Yet who or what is “civil society”?

Most areas of life in Germany have been surveyed, measured, analyzed and documented – which makes it all the more surprising that researchers have paid little attention to civil society’s dynamic development over the years.

That has changed since Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and the Bertelsmann Stiftung launched the project „Zivilgesellschaft in Zahlen“ – ZiviZ (Placing Civil Society on the Economic Map) in 2008. in 2008. The goal: finding out how effective civil society actually is.

Since then we have been collecting data, measuring the sector, providing guidance and documenting the relevance of civil society organizations as the backbone of German society. Working with additional partners, we have been able to create a Civil Society Information System, which is being further developed on an ongoing basis.

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In the past, when civil society was discussed in Germany, many people found the whole topic fuzzy and unsupported by concrete data. I am therefore very pleased that, together with our alliance of foundations, we have been able to provide researchers, national policy makers, state governments, cities, towns and, above all, civil society actors themselves with a solid foundation for better understanding this crucial part of society,
says Dr. Brigitte Mohnunderscoring both the goals and importance of ZiviZ

Why the Bertelsmann Stiftung became a thought leader for the nonprofit sector and civil society’s further development

For many years, the Bertelsmann Stiftung has addressed the role of foundations and their importance to society. As early as 1996, Reinhard Mohn brought together individual initiatives to create a separate project area dedicated to the topic of foundations.

Among the milestones the foundation achieved through its efforts were the establishment of community foundations, the publication of groundbreaking literature (Foundations’ Handbook), the dissemination of background studies (Foundations in Germany) and the support it provided for sociopolitical initiatives designed to reform the nonprofit sector.

In 2008, the Bertelsmann Stiftung pooled all of its activities in this area in the program Zukunft der Zivilgesellschaft (Civil Society).

Globaler Streik von Schülern die Plakate hochhalten, während der Demonstrationen zum Thema "fridays for future"

Civil society is indispensable

Hardly a social challenge today is discussed without the participation of civil society, which is indispensable and provides the framework for civic engagement.

Charitable organizations (foundations, cooperatives, nonprofit businesses), social groups, trade associations and initiatives get involved to address a wide range of issues autonomously and voluntarily. They supply information on human rights violations or environmental damage, help the victims of natural disasters, provide food for the poor, operate hospitals and preschools, and organize sporting events, among other activities.

Little understanding of civil society’s importance

For a long time, people in Germany were generally unaware of the dimensions and importance of civil society and its rapid growth. When the project ZiviZ was launched in 2008, there were no current data on the nonprofit sector’s role, reach, structure or funding, or the number of people it employed. Above all, there was no reliable information about how the powerful triad of “state, market and civil society” was developing.

The program’s partners and goals

Against this background, Stifterverband, the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and the Bertelsmann Stiftung formed a comprehensive, long-term partnership to achieve the following goals:

  • Assemble data to promote quality and transparency in the third sector
  • Provide guidance and information on current trends to civil society, policy makers and researchers
  • Raise awareness of the political and social significance of civil society and civic engagement

Numerous partners, supporters and friends have since joined the initiative. They use and disseminate the findings and insights resulting from the data analysis, thereby increasing the impact of ZiviZ.

  • Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung

Civil Society Information System: Methodology, progress, milestones

Milestone I – Evaluating the business register

Germany’s Federal Statistical Officewas an indispensable partner for the creation and ongoing development of the Civil Society Information System. The project evaluated Germany’s business register from 2008 to 2011 together with the Centre for Social Investment in Heidelberg. That made it possible for the first time to use official data to determine the size and structure of civil society and compare it to the private and public sectors.

The result: Approximately 105,000 organizations were classified as belonging to the third sector. They employ 2.3 million people – almost 10 percent of the German workforce. That means this sector accounts for 4.1 percent of Germany’s gross value added – almost €90 billion.


Milestone II – The first ZiviZ Survey in 2012

To gain an understanding of civil society’s full scope, facts and figures on the sector’s social and political significance were collected for the first time as part of the first ZiviZ survey, carried out in 2012.

Official registries and directories were consulted to identify all community groups, association, private foundations, cooperative societies and nonprofit businesses, and a list was compiled containing over 610,000 names. A representative sample of these organizations was surveyed between September 2012 and January 2013. Once the ZiviZ survey was complete, representative data for civil society in Germany were available for the first time.

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One of the key findings was that “Vereine” (associations) are the mainstay of civil society in Germany, with 97 percent of all organizations in the third sector belonging to this category. What also became clear was that the country’s associations were changing. Although two-thirds were active in the areas of sports, culture, leisure, education and child care, many new associations were being founded, especially in the areas of social services and health care.

The findings also showed that only one-third of all civil society organizations are funded with public money. Most public funds are provided to organizations operating in social welfare-related fields, such as social services, health care, child care and education. To ensure that organizations active in these areas are sustainably funded, the study’s authors recommended that financing provided by the public sector be approved for longer periods and distributed more widely.

In addition to the main report, the dataset was used to produce additional reports which examined specific topics in detail:

Milestone III – Establishing an office at Stifterverband

To ensure the Civil Society Information System would be expanded and further developed on an ongoing basis, Sifterverband, the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and the Bertelsmann Stiftung agreed in 2014 to establish an office for the project in Berlin: ZiviZ im Stifterverband The office is managed by Stifterverband, which has a close working relationship with the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Thanks to its broad-based surveys, funding initiatives, expert opinions, policy papers and special analyses, the Berlin office makes an ongoing contribution to improving the underlying data and further developing the resulting practical projects. In doing so, it raises awareness of civil society and civic and digital engagement while also making them more politically relevant.

Milestone IV – The second ZiviZ Survey in 2017

More than 6,300 nonprofit organizations participated in the second ZiviZ survey, which was published in 2017. For the first time, more detailed information on specific topics was collected: There were questions on educational activities, fundraising initiatives and the social integration of immigrants and refugees. The 2017 ZiviZ Survey was supported by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and Stiftung Mercator.


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The key finding: Despite all the talk about the demise of Germany’s “Vereine,” the country’s civil society is actually growing. Almost half of the population is a member of one of its more than 600,000 associations. Moreover, 95 percent of its nonprofits are incorporated as associations, although there has been an increase in foundations, cooperatives and other organizational types.

Germany’s civil society is changing. Urban organizations are becoming more political, those located in rural settings more focused on social integration. While groups dedicated to traditional topics – sports, leisure, social activities – are firmly established in rural communities, cities are also home to foundations and nonprofit businesses. Providing services and addressing political and social issues play a much greater role for organizations located in urban environments.

One association in five in Germany is dedicated to fundraising. Almost 30 percent of the country’s 130,000 fundraising associations were founded after 2006, making them one of the fastest growing segments among nonprofits. Fundraising associations are most often found in the areas of education, child care and culture.

Community groups, clubs, associations, foundations and other charitable organizations see themselves as part of an autonomous civil society. Two out of three charitable organizations (64 percent) say it is both fitting and important that their work is done and funded by society at large and not the government. Almost a third (31 percent) believe their work should at least be financed by the government. Only 6 percent see themselves as a provider of last resort and feel their services should come from the public sector instead.

In addition to the main report the dataset was used to produce additional reports which examined specific topics in detail:

Additional in-depth analyses are being developed – analyses of two of Germany’s states, Bavaria and Saxony, for example, and a report on organizations assisting refugees.

Milestone V – CC Survey 2018

A joint initiative of ZiviZ im Stifterverband and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the CC Survey 2018 provides robust, representative data on corporate engagement and corporate citizenship. The goal of this regularly recurring survey is to document and depict the German business community’s social engagement on a broad scale.

The results show that most companies in Germany do not feel it is sufficient to create jobs and pay taxes. They also want to get involved on behalf of society. Moreover, nine out of ten managers say that businesses have to pay more attention to their position as role models. Almost two out of three companies in the country engage in activities that turn this idea into reality.

According to the survey, 63 percent of Germany’s business organizations are actively committed to making a difference. They address social issues by going beyond what is required by law. Above all, this includes donating money and material goods, giving employees time off to volunteer and, to a much lesser degree, organizing their own social projects. Overall, the German business community spends €9.5 billion each year on activities that contribute to the common good. That is over €1 billion more than previous estimates and it even exceeds all private donations made in the country.

Findings from the 2018 CC Survey show that “corporate citizens” could be even more effective in overcoming social challenges. The problem: Their activities in this area have rarely been professionalized and often remain unrecognized.

Various players must take responsibility and get involved if more of the potential that corporate citizens have to offer can be used to address social challenges. This means, first and foremost, the companies themselves, but also policy makers and civil society leaders.

Companies should define their goals in the area of corporate engagement and identify how those goals can be reached. Ideally, they would approach the task not on their own, but within one or more networks. Policy makers at the federal and state levels should systematically review the bureaucratic and fiscal obstacles and promote civic engagement through tax breaks.

Milestone VI: Establishment of ZiviZ gGmbH im Stifterverband

After 10 years of work, the ZiviZ project developed into ZiviZ gGmbH in 2018. The nonprofit company is the data specialist for research on civil society, a “think and do tank” that analyzes, advises and networks. These days, ZiviZ also works closely with NGOs, foundations, government ministries, trade associations and businesses, thereby providing new momentum for strengthening civil society.

Current facts and figures – Findings from the Data Report on Civil Society

Published in 2019, the Datenreport Zivilgesellschaft (Data Report on Civil Society) offers an overview of the current status and the development of civil society and civic engagement in Germany. The report was made possible by the cooperative efforts of the institutions and actors in Forum Zivilgesellschaftsdaten (FZD), the forum for data on civil society. FZD serves as a platform and network for all organizations that collect data on civil society. It was organized by ZiviZ im Stifterverband and supported by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth from May 2016 to July 2018.


Current findings at a glance


Interim assessment and impact of the ZiviZ foundation alliance

After 10 years of partnership, the original idea has grown into a broad, cross-sector alliance of foundations, NGOs, academic organizations, government ministries, trade associations and businesses. The alliance contributes to the ongoing development of the Civil Society Information System. Its key element and driving force is the nonprofit ZiviZ gGmbH im Stifterverband. As a “think and do tank,” it works with its partners to deliver data-oriented guidance and information on current trends as a way of supporting civil society’s day-to-day efforts. Through its studies and analyses, it raises awareness of civil society, civic engagement and digitalization and helps increase their political relevance.

This includes unusual partnerships – for example, with the historical association Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. From March to August 2019, the Zeitgeschichtliche Forum in Leipzig showing an exhibition that examines the role that community groups, clubs and associations have played in German culture. It depicts these organizations as offering their members tradition, camaraderie and a sense of community, while bringing together people of different backgrounds.

What people have to say about the ZiviZ Survey

The ZiviZ Survey helps us to discuss the challenges and possibilities relating to demographic change.
Birger Hartnuss, Rhineland–Palatinate State Chancellery
The ZiviZ Survey is the long-overdue dataset that shows how valuable our educational efforts truly are.
Katja Hintze, Landesverband Schulischer Fördervereine Berlin-Brandenburg e. V.
The systematic comparison with others is what sharpens your focus on your own organization.
Dr. Karin Fehres, German Olympics Sports Confederation
We need knowledge and facts if we are to understand civil society and work together to develop it further.
Tobias Kemnitzer, Federal Association of Volunteer Agencies
The ZiviZ Survey can help migrant organizations to finally be seen by politicians and society at large.
Gökay Sofuoglu, Turkish Community in Germany
Describing all the things we achieve every day as volunteers in community groups is both fitting and important.
Dirk Waske, Trainer, SC Berlin Amateure 1920 e. V.