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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