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.