Bild: Steve Johnson, on unsplash

A look at Phil­an­thropy today: a moment in time

How have things chan­ged for foun­da­ti­ons in Switz­er­land since we moved out of the diffi­cult pande­mic years, and how are they responding?

Before the pande­mic struck, Switz­er­land was expe­ri­en­cing incre­di­ble growth in the phil­an­thropy land­scape – a trend that has been going on for the last 20 years. In 2020 for exam­ple, Switz­er­land had almost 16 trusts for every 10,000 citi­zens accor­ding to the Univer­sity of Basel. To put this in context, that is six times the number of trusts per head compared to the USA or Germany and one of the highest ratios in the world. During 2021, despite the pande­mic raging, Switz­er­land saw a new foun­da­tion crea­ted for every day of the year, 365 in total with Zurich seeing the most crea­ted: 51. Make no mistake, the pande­mic has been a diffi­cult time for nearly all sections of society inclu­ding phil­an­thropy, howe­ver the Swiss foun­da­tion sector remains resi­li­ent and is still growing. Foun­da­ti­ons now realise they have to be more dyna­mic and whether that is more staff being able to work from home or a reca­li­bra­tion of inter­nal budgets, Swiss foun­da­ti­ons have shown they are up to the chall­enge and looking forward with increased dyna­mism and efficiency.

What are the trends, and the pres­su­res?  For exam­ple – is there an increased demand for funding from nonpro­fits natio­nally / inter­na­tio­nally, or both? And what areas are the biggest demands for funding coming from? 

The role of many foun­da­ti­ons – inclu­ding those we work with at Phil­an­thropy Services AG, is not simply to sit back and wait for demands for funding natio­nally and inter­na­tio­nally – but to actively seek out NPOs who we believe need the most help or those who can best effect change. For exam­ple, at Phil­an­thropy Services AG’s Inter­na­tio­nal Rese­arch Lab, we actively rese­arch and seek out the most dyna­mic and important chari­ties from across the world. We then match them with the most appro­priate and progres­sive Swiss foun­da­ti­ons. This year we are focus­sing on UK NPOs but our reach and indeed our ambi­tion for new part­ner­ships is without borders. This method and prin­ci­ple, which mirrors our strong belief in systems change, allows us support and encou­rage the NPOs who we believe do the most vital work natio­nally and inter­na­tio­nally. Accor­ding to our own Market Survey Report, a signi­fi­cant amount of Swiss foun­da­ti­ons desire to give abroad but have not yet been approa­ched to do so. We aim to fill that gap.

The ques­tion of the areas of demand is not a simple one. The areas deman­ding funding do not neces­s­a­rily equate to funds being deli­vered to those areas. In Switz­er­land, tradi­tio­nally arts and culture funding has been the most popu­lar type of phil­an­thropy as Prof. Dr. Georg von Schnur­bein (Direc­tor Center for Phil­an­thropy Studies (CEPS)) often states. Howe­ver, this trend is now being repla­ced with more social and envi­ron­men­tal calls to action. At the same time, the funding of rese­arch and educa­tion remain strong and are also expan­ding. What cannot be denied is that Switz­er­land in gene­ral terms is deve­lo­ping a more global outlook.

Is the foun­da­tion sector in a strong place gene­rally in Switz­er­land? Is it growing or shrinking? 

As I mentio­ned before, phil­an­thropy is in a strong and the sector is growing. Switz­er­land has a robust and evol­ving phil­an­thropy land­scape and the chall­enge is now incre­asing the diver­sity of funding and the effi­ci­ency of the foun­da­ti­ons them­sel­ves. This will go hand in hand with Swiss law updating itself to protect and regu­late the sector and make it as trans­pa­rent as possible.

Any thoughts on the future for foun­da­ti­ons there?

Foun­da­ti­ons will conti­nue to grow and change with the times. The mega trend of increased digi­ta­li­sa­tion will play a massive part in keeping these foun­da­ti­ons trans­pa­rent, effec­tive and rele­vant. As Dr Peter Buss (foun­der of StiftungSchweiz and Nonpro­Cons AG) allu­ded to in his piece; Dare to Digi­ta­lise:

It is true that a lot of orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are merely at the start of their digi­tal jour­ney. That’s why avoi­ding this topic is no longer an option.”

He further stated in his Para­digm Shift piece that,

 ‘’Donors will become the real “drivers” in the dona­tion busi­ness. They will no longer wait for an orga­ni­sa­tion to ask them for support for a project. They will become active for a project or an orga­ni­sa­tion them­sel­ves when they want to. Decide for them­sel­ves and do some­thing them­sel­ves will be the motto. Digi­ta­li­sa­tion makes this possi­ble. This will also affect major donors and funding foun­da­ti­ons. In the future, they will all incre­asingly go looking for projects them­sel­ves instead of waiting for applications.’’

As well as digi­ta­li­sa­tion, other trends will play a criti­cal role. The rise of the millen­nial gene­ra­tion, as Silvia Bastante de Unver­hau (a global phil­an­thropy expert) points out, has increased phil­an­thro­pic expec­ta­ti­ons and this is a key driver and oppor­tu­nity for Swiss foun­da­ti­ons. Add to this the recent increa­ses in entre­pre­neu­rial wealth (with its high propen­sity to donate back to society), the rapid evolu­tion of commu­ni­ca­ti­ons and also an increase in famous or nota­ble global phil­an­thro­pists – the face of phil­an­thropy is chan­ging at an expo­nen­tial rate. Swiss foun­da­ti­ons are in an excel­lent posi­tion to move with these trends, meet these evol­ving demands and conti­nue to lead the way globally.

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