Advocacy in European Civil Societies: Organizational Trade-offs Between Selective and Collective Incentive Provision

Nicole Bolleyer, Patricia Correa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract Civil society organizations (CSOs) are a cornerstone of democracy in Europe. Nonetheless, “civil society” and “political society” should not be equated as membership-based organizations are not necessarily politically engaged. This paper theorizes and empirically examines which membership-based CSOs engage in interest representation through sustained advocacy activity. We propose an incentive-theoretical framework on CSO investments in advocacy activities—a collective, non-exclusive incentive from which also non-members can profit—by organizations fundamentally dependent on member support. Theorizing how CSOs' own structural characteristics, resource dependencies, and government demand for CSO input affect how CSOs reconcile selective and collective incentive provision, we test our hypotheses using new data from four recent surveys conducted in four European democracies. In line with our framework, CSOs organizing individual citizens rather than corporate actors and those pursuing member interests are less likely to engage in advocacy, while CSO professionalization and state funding access enhance CSOs’ propensities to do so. Furthermore, the analysis shows that the former structural CSO characteristics are similarly relevant for CSO advocacy across distinct country settings, while the role of resource variables is mediated by institutional context revealing an important source of inequality in democratic interest representation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Forces
Early online date28 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) (2022). Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Anthropology
  • History


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