By Victoria Ateca-Amestoy and Arantza Gorostiaga

Cultural participation can engage in cultural heritage beyond visits to includes donating their money and their time to cultural heritage organisations. The participant’s philanthropic motives of charitable giving and their cultural preference evaluating cultural heritage are characterized in “Donating Money and Time to Cultural Heritage. Evidence from the European Union”,  a study of participation rates among countries in the European Union.

Starting from the premise that cultural heritage is one of the defining elements of identity, European policies want to promote the access to culture to enhance social cohesion and active citizenship by means, for instance, of a broader and deeper involvement of people in the governance and care of heritage. But… are European citizens ready to participate in the common stewardship of heritage?

Citizens donate when there is certain social awareness of the need. Thus, the physical and mental proximity of heritage institutions is expected to influence on the attitudes and philanthropic behaviour of citizens. They also need to be asked for their engagement, so institutions more actively engaged in solicitation campaigns and offering more possibilities for engagement would get more donations. Besides, once that the individual is aware of the need and of the possibilities to collaborate, he would start some cost-benefit analysis to anticipate the profits of the philanthropic engagement. One should expect both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits modulated by psychological traits and cultural values.

The financial contributions of citizens, traditionally important in some European countries where heritage institutions’ funding was supported by individual donations, has entered into the policy agenda after the public crisis of the last decade. Still, there are huge differences in the proportion of citizens that donate money to heritage institutions across European countries. This depends on public attitudes and on the influence of public institutions that shape the incentives to which individuals respond and that determine differences in the extrinsic motivations. Social recognition of donors and signalling of status or social responsibility are indeed public attitudes that vary across European countries; tax incentives too.

The contribution of volunteers to the preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage is a well stablished phenomenon: many museums have active volunteer corps, there are archaeological summer camps for young people, some governments are currently considering the possibility of including professional employee volunteering as a form of corporate donation in their tax reforms to enhance philanthropy. When compared with volunteering in other activities, donating time to a heritage institution may derive different benefits to the participant, who can enjoy socialisation, informal education, pleasant leisure experiences and can experience higher levels of wellbeing.

So far, data availability conditioned the analysis of donations to heritage in Europe, making the boundaries of the money and the time donations very blurry and impeding international comparisons. In our paper, we use the Eurobarometer 88.1 survey, conducted in September-October 2017 before the celebration of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, andinvestigate the engagement with cultural heritage and perceptions and attitudes of 27,881 survey respondents from the 28 EU countries. This allows to have a broad international panorama for the first time.

We consider the answers to the following questions:

“Do you donate money or other resources to an organisation (a museum, an association, a foundation, etc.) that is active in the field of cultural heritage (for example, conserving monuments or paintings, keeping alive traditions, developing education programmes, etc.)?”


“Do you do voluntary work for an organisation (a museum, an association, a foundation, etc.) that is active in the field of cultural heritage?”

Our first finding -Figure 1- is the big differences in the incidence of donations to heritage for the 28 European countries in the sample. The scatter plot displays the estimated percentage of the population that does some voluntary work on the horizontal axis and the estimated percentage of the population that donates money on the vertical axis. The graph shows that the participation rates vary a lot from one country to the next, with the percentage of the population doing voluntary work ranging from 1.6% in Lithuania to 14.2% in Sweden, and the percentage donating money lying between 1.2% in Greece and 19.3% in Malta. Additionally, the two types of participation in heritage organisations appear to be positively correlated at the national level, and the countries more prone to volunteer work also exhibit higher percentages of their populations donating money.

Fig. 1 Percentage of countries’ population that do voluntary work and that donate money

Source: Special Eurobarometer 466

Figure 2 further explores the existence of specialization patterns in the type of donations reported. The stacked bar graph displays the proportion of the population that is estimated to donate both money and time, the percentage that donates only money, the percentage that only volunteers, and the percentage that does not contribute in either way to organisations involved in cultural heritage. Focusing on the population who actually donates (orange, red and purple bars), the estimates in Figure 2 indicate some kind of specialization, considering that the proportion that both donates money and volunteers is much smaller than the proportion that supports heritage organisations in just one of the two forms. There is not a clear specialization pattern that can be explained by income, traditions, or geography across Europe, or by welfare state regime. Sweden, Luxembourg, and Ireland present quite similar proportions of citizens donating only money and donating only time. In the Netherlands and, especially, Malta and the United Kingdom, the largest group among givers is those donating only money (probably, related to the free entry policy to museums, where voluntary donations are asked). In Belgium and Denmark, however, more of the population participates through volunteer work only, with the percentage of the population doing so being around 1.5 percentage points larger than the percentage that only donates money.

Fig. 2 Distribution of time and money donations by country

Source: Special Eurobarometer 466. Countries are in decreasing order by percentage of the population that does not donate either money or time.

We also estimate a bivariate probit model to characterise the joint determination of the money and of time donations as a function of the same set of covariates. We represent the access and availability of heritage as a variable that represents more awareness and we find that more awareness and active participation (in any type of heritage: tangible, intangible…) are associated with higher probability of donating money and of volunteering. We also explore the patterns of possible specialization on time or on money donations and the influence of different ways of heritage engagement. Regularly visiting heritage sites or going to events, or living in a historic environment, are associated with a much bigger impact on the likelihood of donating only money than on the likelihood of volunteering. Doing some traditional activity, however, has a larger positive effect on the probability of only doing volunteer work than the probability of only contributing through monetary donations.

As we are also interested in understanding donations as a way of cultural participation, there are interesting results for the variables that explain behaviour according to an economic approach to study cultural participation, such as cultural capital, the allocation of time and monetary resources to create pleasant experiences. Donation decisions are positively related with education, social class, age, living arrangements, and economic conditions can be interpreted. Inherently, unlike previous results for general philanthropy, for heritage and European Union citizens, we do not find different donation profiles by gender or nationality, nor by the size of community of residence. Probably, apart from the direct effect of education, the individual decision to donate either time or money, or both, is mediated by exposure that would increase awareness of the need. Furthermore, both availability and access reduce the psychological distance to the cause and promote the control over the efficacy of the contributions, two dimensions that have been found to be relevant in general philanthropy studies.

If models such as the participatory governance of cultural heritage are to be promoted by public institutions and successfully implemented, we need to know more about the drivers and barriers for individuals to get engaged in more intense ways than mere visits and to contribute with their personal resources. It seems that more exposure to heritage is crucially related with awareness of the need to support and with the skills needed for the efficacy of the time donations of volunteers. Money and time donations are understood to be a more committed and involved way of engagement that would contribute to individual and societal wellbeing through other mechanisms, such as sense of worth or belonging, thus not only benefiting the heritage organisations that receive the time donations, but also volunteers.

About this publication:

Ateca Amestoy and Gorostiaga (2021) “Donating Money and Time to Cultural Heritage. Evidence from the European Union” in Journal of Cultural Economics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10824-021-09409-4.

About the authors:

Victoria Ateca-Amestoy is Associate Professor at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU.

Arantza Gorostiaga is Associate Professor at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU.

About the image:

Celebration of International Volunteers Day 2019 in the Museo de Reproducciones Artísticas de Bilbao, Itziar Martija Recalde.

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