Italian CSOs are characterised by a variety of forms in which citizens gather and mobilise resources and act in the public policy arena by using power and responsibility to protect rights, look after heritage and support people in difficulty. In Italy the term CSO is relatively recent and is less used than that of Nonprofit Organisations (NPOs). Some authors claim the two words have overlapping but not identical meanings, while for others the two ter- minologies are almost identical (Barbetta & Maggio, 2008). According to the first group of scholars (Moro 2005 and 2009), the two terms are distinct because CSOs are organisations that predominantly do not have a form recognised by law, for example movements and groups of citizens. However, there can be CSOs with legal structures, such as associations, committees, and volunteer organisations, but they are marginal in respect to those not recognised by law. The term NPO means structures that are mostly identified by law and are more organised. According to the second group of authors (Borzaga & Fazzi 2014, Pole- drini 2015), which is in the majority, the two terms are synonymous. For example, the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) uses the word NPOs predominantly to indicate CSOs. Here, the two terms will be used equivalently.
Italian CSOs have, throughout the centuries, dealt with moments of development and cri- sis. Italian CSOs began during the Middle Ages when they spread in the cities known as Comuni (Bruni, 2012). Comuni were city-states independent from the power of the Emperor and the Papacy. The principles of freedom and democracy were at the base of the Comuni. Within the Comuni, citizen life was characterised by a high participation in the political and associative life of the city, so citizens, along with religious orders, created the first expe- riences of what have now become hospitals, universities, banks, orphanages, and so on. The birth of the modern Italian nonprofit sector, as it is known today, is traced to the 1980s when the government made significant reforms, such as the adoption of the principle of horizontal subsidiarity in article 118 of the Italian constitution. According to this new article, the initiative of citizens cannot be stalled by the national government, and the government must intervene if CSOs fail to operate.