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The French Nonprofit Sector

A Literature Review

Series:

Laura Nirello and Lionel Prouteau

This article deals with the literature on the French nonprofit sector (NPS). A preliminary part is devoted to presenting and discussing the characteristics that shape the approaches to this sector in France. We stress the strong influence of legal categories on the sector’s definition and, in this context, the importance of the status inherited from the 1901 Act on contracts of association. This raises a problem for a more analytical approach to the sector, because the diversity of the nonprofit organizations (NPOs) regulated under this Act risks being overshadowed. In this first part, we also underline the primacy accorded in France to the concept of the social economy, which has today become the social and solidarity economy (SSE), over that of the nonprofit sector.
In the second part, the article outlines some landmarks in the history of the French NPS. French NPOs were for many years objects of suspicion, arbitrariness and repression on the part of the public authorities and this persisted until the 1901 legislation on contracts of association was enacted. However, this hostile context did not prevent the sector from having a richer existence than is sometimes admitted.
This literature review also focuses on empirical studies of the sector, placing a particular emphasis on the more recent ones. These French studies basically adopt two types of approach. The first is concerned essentially with the NPOs and focuses its attention on their economic importance, whether measured in terms of financial resources, employment, or, less frequently, added value. The second approach investigates the kinds of individual participation the sector engenders by examining the various forms it takes, such as membership of NPOs or voluntary work.
This review ends with the analysis of the challenges that NPS faces in a context characterized by the increasing constraints on public funding, changes in the nature of such funding with a substitution of contracts for subsidies, an increased competition among NPOs as well as between NPOs and for-profit enterprises. The article concludes that, despite the advances in research on the French NPS, some aspects—like formal volunteering and the role of voluntary associations—are still understudied, while others—like informal groups and informal volunteering—are almost totally ignored.
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Laura Nirello and Lionel Prouteau

Abstract

This article deals with the literature on the French nonprofit sector (NPS). A preliminary part is devoted to presenting and discussing the characteristics that shape the approaches to this sector in France. We stress the strong influence of legal categories on the sector’s definition and, in this context, the importance of the status inherited from the 1901 Act on contracts of association. This raises a problem for a more analytical approach to the sector, because the diversity of the nonprofit organizations (NPOs) regulated under this Act risks being overshadowed. Indeed, not all NPOs regulated under the 1901 Act are voluntary associations as understood by English-speaking people. The largest NPOs are voluntary agencies, usually with paid staff, and lacking memberships (Smith, 2015a, 2015b). In this first part, we also underline the primacy accorded in France to the concept of the social economy, which has today become the social and solidarity economy (SSE), over that of the nonprofit sector. The SSE, whose recognition from the public authorities has increased over the last few decades, includes, but is not limited to, the NPS, since cooperatives and mutuals (mutual aid groups) have to be added.

In the second part, the article outlines some landmarks in the history of the French NPS. French NPOs were for many years objects of suspicion, arbitrariness and repression on the part of the public authorities and this persisted until the 1901 legislation on contracts of association was enacted. However, this hostile context did not prevent the sector from having a richer existence than is sometimes admitted. The 1901 Act marked a very significant moment in the history of the French NPS, since it finally enshrined freedom of association in French law. Although the history of the French NPS since this Act is yet to be written, our literature review highlights some aspects of its contemporary development and it addresses a topic that merits particular attention in France—namely the interpenetration between certain NPOs and the public authorities. Indeed, such an interpenetration may affect the autonomy of the former by rendering them instruments of the latter. The fear of an instrumentalization by government is a recurring problem among NPOs.

This literature review also focuses on empirical studies of the sector, placing a particular emphasis on the more recent ones. These French studies basically adopt two types of approach. The first is concerned essentially with the NPOs and focuses its attention on their economic importance, whether measured in terms of financial resources, employment, or, less frequently, added value. This is undoubtedly the dominant approach in the literature on the subject. In doing so, a great deal of emphasis is placed on large organizations. Voluntary associations managed solely by volunteers are treated as insignificant and the less formal part of the NPS is unaddressed. The second approach investigates the kinds of individual participation the sector engenders by examining the various forms it takes, such as membership of NPOs or voluntary work. In this respect, research shows a relative stability of association membership over the past three decades but volunteering is still only partially documented, as are cash donations.

This review ends with the analysis of the challenges that NPS faces in a context characterized by the increasing constraints on public funding, changes in the nature of such funding with a substitution of contracts for subsidies, an increased competition among NPOs as well as between NPOs and for-profit enterprises. Such a context has forced NPOs to increase their degree of organizational professionalization and certain NPOs increasingly use management instruments applied in for-profit enterprises. This raises questions about their specificities and their raison d’être, and these questions lead researchers to pay more attention to the governance systems of NPOs. The article concludes that, despite the advances in research on the French NPS, some aspects—like formal volunteering and the role of voluntary associations—are still understudied, while others—like informal groups and informal volunteering—are almost totally ignored.

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John McNutt, Chao Guo, Lauri Goldkind and Seongho An

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are major forces shaping our current age. ICT affects many areas of human existence and influences the both human wellbeing and human evil. The nonprofit sector is already heavily involved in technology both as a way to pursue its mission and as an influential factor in the evolution of the sector. This article examines how technology affects the sector and how the sector uses technology in its work.
The article begins with a discussion of how the emerging information society will change the nonprofit sector. The sector that we know is grounded on our experience in the agrarian and industrial periods in the United States and Europe. We then explore how technology evolved in the sector. This is followed by an examination of technology and nonprofit organizational behavior. Technology changes the organizations that make use of its capacities. Next is a discussion of the types of technology that nonprofit organizations use. The final three sections deal with technology and social change, technology in nonprofit settings, and issues and trends. This article provides the reader with a current appreciation of the scholarly and professional literature on ICT in the nonprofit sector.
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David Horton Smith

Reviewed here is global research on how 13 types of Voluntary Membership Associations (MAs) have significantly or substantially had global impacts on human history, societies, and life. Such outcomes have occurred especially in the past 200+ years since the Industrial Revolution circa 1800 CE, and its accompanying Organizational Revolution. Emphasized are longer-term, historical, and societal or multinational impacts of MAs, rather than more micro-level (individual) or meso-level (organizational) outcomes. MAs are distinctively structured, with power coming from the membership, not top-down. The author has characterized MAs as the dark matter of the nonprofit/third sector, using an astrophysical metaphor. Astrophysicists have shown that most physical matter in the universe is dark in the sense of being unseen, not stars or planets.
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John McNutt, Chao Guo, Lauri Goldkind and Seongho An

Abstract

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are major forces shaping our current age. ICT affects many areas of human existence and influences the both human wellbeing and human evil. The nonprofit sector is already heavily involved in technology both as a way to pursue its mission and as an influential factor in the evolution of the sector. This article examines how technology affects the sector and how the sector uses technology in its work.

The article begins with a discussion of how the emerging information society will change the nonprofit sector. The sector that we know is grounded on our experience in the agrarian and industrial periods in the United States and Europe. We then explore how technology evolved in the sector. This is followed by an examination of technology and nonprofit organizational behavior. Technology changes the organizations that make use of its capacities. Next is a discussion of the types of technology that nonprofit organizations use. The final three sections deal with technology and social change, technology in nonprofit settings, and issues and trends. This article provides the reader with a current appreciation of the scholarly and professional literature on ICT in the nonprofit sector.

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Series:

David Horton Smith

Abstract

Reviewed here is global research on how 13 types of Voluntary Membership Associations (MAs) have significantly or substantially had global impacts on human history, societies, and life. Such outcomes have occurred especially in the past 200+ years since the Industrial Revolution circa 1800 CE, and its accompanying Organizational Revolution. Emphasized are longer-term, historical, and societal or multinational impacts of MAs, rather than more micro-level (individual) or meso-level (organizational) outcomes. MAs are distinctively structured, with power coming from the membership, not top-down. The author has characterized MAs as the dark matter of the nonprofit/third sector, using an astrophysical metaphor. Astrophysicists have shown that most physical matter in the universe is dark in the sense of being unseen, not stars or planets.

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Lili Wang

Migration has changed the social, cultural, political, and economic landscape of many countries. Mutual aid organizations, ethic-oriented religious organizations, hometown associations, and various other types of ethnic and immigrant organizations emerged to respond to the particular needs of immigrant communities. For countries with a tradition of civic participation, integrating immigrants into civic life becomes an important issue. This article reviews the literature on ethnic/immigrant associations and minorities’ or immigrants’ voluntary participation in major developed countries that have experienced a significant increase of immigrants, particularly after the 1990s. In terms of ethnic/immigrant associations, the author reviews the historical background of research in this area, the size and scope, the formation and development, the memberships, and the financial well-being of these associations, the roles they play in helping immigrants acculturate into the host countries, and the classification of ethnic/immigrant associations. Particular attention is given to immigrants’ mutual aid organizations, ethnic cultural organizations, ethnic-oriented religious organizations, and hometown associations. The author also reviews the literature that examines the factors influencing minorities’ and immigrants’ voluntary participation, their formal and informal volunteering, as well we immigrant youth’s voluntary participation.
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Lili Wang

Abstract

In today’s globalized world, migration has changed the social, cultural, political, and economic landscape of many countries. The influx of immigrants increases the cultural and ethnic diversity of host countries as well as the needs of social services in these countries (Gesthuizen, van der Meer, & Scheepers, 2009; Jenkins, 1988; Padilla, 1997). Ethnic associations, including mutual aid organizations, hometown associations, and various other types of ethnic and immigrant organizations, emerged to respond to the particular needs of specific immigrant communities (Smith et al., 1994, 1999). For countries with a tradition of civic participation, integrating immigrants into civic life becomes an important issue. Since immigrants, particularly newcomers, tend to involve themselves more in ethnic/immigrant organizations than in mainstream organizations in a host country (and they also engage more in informal volunteering and mutual help than their native-born counterparts), it is important to study ethnic/immigrant organizations and immigrants’ voluntary participation, including informal volunteering, which could help us better understand immigrants’ integration into the civic life of a host country.

This article reviews the literature on ethnic/immigrant associations and minorities’/immigrants’ voluntary participation in major developed countries in North America, Europe, and Oceania, including countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand, which have experienced a significant increase of immigrants or a surge of foreign-born population since World War ii, and particularly after the 1990s.

In terms of ethnic/immigrant associations, the author reviews the historical background of research in this area, the size and scope of ethnic/immigrant associations, the formation and development of ethnic/immigrant associations, the memberships, the financial well-being of these associations, the roles they play in helping immigrants adapt and acculturate into the host countries, and the classification of ethnic associations. Particular attention is given to immigrants’ mutual aid organizations, ethnic cultural organizations, ethnic-oriented religious organizations, and hometown associations. The characteristics of ethnic/immigrant associations vary by culture or ethnic groups and by the context of their host countries. The author reviews the English literature on ethnic/immigrant associations formed by people from various backgrounds, such as European, African, Latin American, and Asian immigrants/ethnic groups in the United States, as well as similar immigrant/ethnic groups in Western developed countries that have a large number of immigrants.

Research on immigrant voluntary participation tends to show that immigrants participate in or volunteer less for mainstream nonprofit organizations than native-borns (Sundeen, Garcia, & Wang, 2007). Some studies further examine the barriers for immigrants to participate in formal volunteering, such as language, cultural perception of volunteering, time constraints, lack of information or connection to organizations, and lack of transportation (i.e. Baer, 2008; Campbell & McLean, 2002; Scott et al., 2005). Others have also examined immigrants’ motivation to participate in formal volunteering, such as developing social networks, resume building, and so on (Handy & Greenspan, 2009). Several studies, however, find that after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, there is little or no difference between immigrants’ and non-immigrants’ likelihood of voluntary participation (Andersen & Milligan, 2011; Baer, 2008). In addition, studies show that ethnic minorities and immigrants may involve more in ethnic/immigrant associations or ethnic-oriented religious groups and engage in informal volunteering or mutual help (Smith et al., 1994, 1999). This study reviews the literature on both formal and informal volunteering of minorities and immigrants.

Ethnic-oriented religious associations play an important role in helping immigrants adapt to the new environment and providing a venue for voluntary participation (Handy & Greenspan, 2009; Wang & Handy, 2014). Studies of different religious organizations (such as Catholic vs. Protestant or Buddhist) show that the influences of religion on immigrant volunteering vary by the religious beliefs. The author reviews studies that examine the scope of religious organizations in a host country, the formation of ethnic-oriented religious organizations, their structures, and the roles of these religious organizations in helping immigrants integrate into the host country and encouraging ethnic groups’ and immigrants’ voluntary participation.

Immigrant youth have different patterns of voluntary participation from adult immigrants and their native counterparts. Those who moved to the host country at a younger age are more likely to adopt the civic culture of the host country and thus volunteer more (Kawashima-Ginsberg & Kirby, 2009). School is a main venue where immigrant youth are exposed to the civic culture (Ishizawa, 2015; Oesterle, Johnson, & Mortimer, 2004). This study reviews the literature on immigrant youths’ voluntary participation, including the factors that influence immigrant youths’ participation and the consequences of their participation.

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Jenny Onyx and Garth Nowland-Foreman

This is the first comprehensive overview of third sector research in Australasia, prepared by leading researchers, Jenny Onyx in Australia and Garth Nowland-Foreman in Aotearoa New Zealand. It examines both the current state of knowledge of the sector and also the research infrastructure behind the sector. Part one documents the size and scope of the sector, as well as the development of the organisation ANZTSR and its journal. Part two examines relations with the state in each country, the rapid growth in funding services, but also effects of neo-liberal ideological and policy constraints. Part Three documents the current state of volunteering and philanthropy (giving) in both countries. Part Four examines the world of citizen action, building social capital within local communities, and also advocacy and political protest. The concluding Part Five examines some of the current developments in civil society, new emerging forms, and challenges for the future.