Denmark has a long and rich tradition of volunteering and forming unions and associations. Volunteer organisations come in many shapes and sizes but generally the Danish organisations are defined by these five characteristics (either embodying a combination of some or all):
- Formally organised (lasting activities, defined purpose and statutes, regular meetings)
- Independent from the state/public sector
- Non-profit purposes (all profit from all activities go to charity/the common good or are reinvested in the organisation)
- Autonomous (self-determined in all aspects and has no stockholders)
- Volunteers make the decisions (an organisation can have paid staff e.g. at main office but the highest decision-making is occupied by volunteers)
The organisations in the civic society come in three forms:
- Associations - a democratic union of people with a common goal or interest
- Self-governing institutions - a special Scandinavian type of organisation which is run on an agreement of operations and like a volunteer association. The institution exists because of its purpose which can be similar to that of a public institution or a private company.
- Foundations - is similar to self-governing institutions but has a legal entity with an autonomous board that administers a fortune in accordance to specified purposes that benefit the common good.
The exact number of Danish volunteer associations is difficult to pinpoint because the definition of the sector is unclear, but roughly estimated there are about 68.000 associations in Denmark (other estimations says 100.000 associations). Most of the funding comes from the public sector (state, region or municipality). Philanthropy is not that common in Denmark and associations only receives about 10 % of their income through sponsorships - often cultural and sports associations are the recipients.