Several aspects of Norwegian history have prevented philanthropy from emerging as a significant force in society. The country historically had a rather poor and equal population, with no self-confident upper class that saw itself as capable of helping the deserving poor. Charity came to be considered as an outmoded and repressive concept. As such, the state was the most promising source of funding for the expanding welfare society.
Nevertheless, from 1997 to 2009, the share of the population that belongs to households that donate to voluntary organizations has increased from 51 per cent to 76 per cent. The charitable organizations have a sharpened focus on recruiting regular donors and personal sponsors. Still, the Norwegian population has not turned away from volunteering and non-market transaction as their primary way of supporting nonprofit organizations. This generates more than half the income of the nonprofit sector. In 2009 48 per cent of the population volunteered during the last 12 month period, and a very large part of this time was used to generate income for the organizations.
Looking at survey data, donations to nonprofit organizations in egalitarian Norway are to a surprising degree dependent on income, age, education, and social trust—except with regards to religious causes. One reason for this finding could be that religious, local associations are effective fundraisers, exercising a strong appeal to a sense of community. In contrast, other kinds of organizations must rely on professional fundraising operations. They have to play to people’s desire for self-realization, which may be more pronounced when other life goals such as education, high income, marriage and family are realized. People with high levels of general social trust also are found to give more money as well. With weak traditions for charity, Norwegian donators to secular causes seem to be highly reflexive.