International Society for Third-Sector Research

This organization, founded in 1992, was organized as a result of the late-twentieth century interest and activity in voluntary action and association in third world nations and emerging democracies. The ISTR is strengthening nonprofits/nongovernmental organizations by developing regional research networks.


The International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) is an international organization that promotes education and research in philanthropy, civil society and the nonprofit sector.  ISTR provides a link for those interested in Third Sector research and endeavors to build a global community of scholars in the field of philanthropy.  Its purpose is to facilitate the creation, discussion and dissemination of knowledge about the Third Sector world-wide.  ISTR has a special emphasis on expanding the Third Sector in developing nations, Central and Eastern Europe (The International Society for Third-Sector Research).

Historic Roots

The International Society for Third-Sector Research was founded in 1992.  It has representatives on its Board of Directors from all the populated continents.  Funding for ISTR comes from member contributions, grants and publications (ibid.).

The International Society for Third-Sector Research publishes the International Journal of Voluntary and Non-Profit Organizations, Voluntas, which presents theoretical and empirical work, introduces topics and reviews, and includes commentary on non-profit research and policy.  It also makes available a papers from ISTR’s international conferences (ibid.).


In the later half of the twentieth century, interest and activity in voluntary action and association increased significantly in third world nations and emerging democracies.  Many organizations were formed to foster, enhance and research this rising movement.  Several umbrella organizations, attempting to link those involved in this trend, have appeared.  The Society for Third Sector Research is one of those organizations that attempts to link organizations and people interested in furthering the Third Sector (Asociación de Graduados en Organixación y Dirección). 

The International Society for Third-Sector Research is the leading international organization dedicated to research, and its application about the Third-Sector.  ISTR is  playing a more and more of a dynamic role in the Third Sector through their initiatory effort to establish regional networks of investigation.  In this era of change in the way in which the societies organize themselves, evidenced by the many new emerging democracies, the Third Sector is fulfilling an important role and is becoming a vital part of society in many countries.  International research directed at better understanding of economic, sociological, historical, cultural, legal and political conditions that foster civil society is of vital importance as the Third Sector increases (ibid.).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The International Society for Third-Sector Research is strengthening nonprofits/nongovernmental (NGO) organizations by developing regional research networks (The Foundation Center).  There are currently five regional networks that include Africa, Arab-Speaking regions, Asia/Pacific, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean.  The organization also has affinity groups based on geography and thematic focus that enhance the pursuit of specific interests within the concept of the third sector (ibid.).

The International Society for Third-Sector Research holds a biennial conference to encourage the exchange of ideas and research about the Third Sector and to promote cooperation in the sector.  Conferences have been held in Cape Town, South Africa; Dublin, Ireland; Geneva, Switzerland; Mexico City, Mexico; Pecs, Hungary; and Toronto, Canada with the 2006 conference planned for Bangkok, Thailand (ibid.).

Key Related Ideas

Affinity: of or pertaining to persons who share the same interests (Webster 2003).

Civil Society: a set of intermediate associations which are neither the state nor the extended family; civil society therefore includes voluntary associations and firms and other corporate bodies (Learning to Give).

Network: an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance, helpful information, or the like (Webster 2003).

Non-governmental organization (NGO): a term used by non-American countries to define the nonprofit sector (Learning to Give).

Third Sector: also known as the independent sector, non-governmental, non-business sector (Learning to Give).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Masayuki Deguchi:  Deguchi is President of The International Society for Third Sector Research.  He is Professor for the Research Center for Cultural Resources at the National Museum of Ethnology in Japan.  Deguchi is currently conducting a study on corporate philanthropy. He became interested in NGOs while an international philanthropy fellow at Johns Hopkins University. 

  • Freda Donoghue:  Donoghue is Secretary of The International Society for Third Sector Research.  She is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Nonprofit Management at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.  Donoghue has conducted research relating to the economic contribution of the Nonprofit Sector; size and scope of the Nonprofit Sector in Ireland, policy on Nonprofit Sector, relationships between state and Nonprofit Sector, volunteering, and philanthropy.

  • Leilah Landim:  Landim is President Elect of The International Society for Third Sector Research.  She is a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

  • Kathleen D. McCarthy:  McCarthy is Treasurer of The International Society for Third Sector Research.  She is Director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the Graduate School of The City University of New York.  McCarthy received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago and joined The City University of New York in 1986. She is the author of American Creed: Philanthropy and the Rise of Civil Society, 1700-1865; Women's Culture: American Philanthropy and Art, 1830-1930 and many other books, edited volumes and articles on local, national, and international philanthropy, and has lectured on these topics worldwide.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Australia and New Zealand Third Sector Research ( ANZTSR) was launched in 1993.  It is an association of people who research non-profit, community and voluntary organizations and philanthropy in Australia and New Zealand (

  • Asian Pacific Philanthropy Information (APPIN) makes available information about the scope of philanthropy and the Third Sector in the Asia/Pacific region ( ).

  • Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) is an international organization of scholars and non-profit leaders who produce and disseminate research on civil society including philanthropy and volunteerism ( ).

  • Association for Third Sector Research in India (ATRI) is striving to become the source for access to all research done in the NGO sector in India.

  • Centre for Civil Society at the London School of Economics and Political Science was founded in 1999 as the first organization to research voluntary associations in Britain.

  • Centre for Civil Society at the University of Natal was established in 2001 to promote the study, sharing of knowledge and capacity-building of the non-profit sector in South Africa.

  • CIVICUS is an international alliance of citizens and organizations committed to advancing and strengthening the capacity of civil society internationally (

  • Isreali Center for Third Sector Research (ICTR) is the first research center in Israel to promote the study of philanthropy, volunteering, privatization of public services and business social responsibility, and creation of a data base on Israel’s Third Sector (

  • Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has been in existence for more than 50 years.  It encourages volunteerism by providing training to improve capacity and effectiveness of volunteer organizations and advocates for the interests and values of the voluntary sector in Scottish life (

Related Web Sites

American Council for Voluntary International Action Web site, at, offers a clearinghouse for information about humanitarian policy and practice with international news, ways to get involved, and a listing of related events.

Civil Society and Governance Programme Web site at,, offers information relating to an examination of the relationship between civil society and governments in 22 countries, across six international regions.  The site provides research on civil society and governance such as Country Reports, the results of a mapping exercise of civil society; Case Studies,  the episodes or encounters of interactions between civil society and the state; and Synthesis Reports of case studies in specific countries.

Civil Society International (CSI) Web site at,, offers information about projects worldwide committed to civil society such as limited government, popular elections, and the rule of law; free association and expression; regulated, but open and market-oriented economies; aid to the poor, orphaned, elderly, sick, or disabled; and civic cultures that value pluralism and individual liberty, but also respect human needs for community and shared visions of the common good. 

NGONet Web site, at, provides information to, for and about non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in Central and Eastern Europe. The site includes an online library, a calendar of events, training program news, and a bulletin board.


Bibliography and Internet Sources

Asociación de Graduados en Organixación y Dirección (AGODI). ISTR. Accessed 10 November 2004.

The Foundation Center. Strengthening Global Society. Accessed 20 November 2004.

International Society for Third Sector Research. International Society for Third Sector Research. Access 1 November 2004.

Learning to Give.  Learning to Give,  Vocabulary.   Accessed 20 November 2004.

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. New York: Barnes and Noble Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0-7607-4975-2.


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus. It is offered by Learning To Give and Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus.