Former Managing Director of SwissFoundations Beate Eckardt sees room for growth in the charity sector when it comes to diversity – and not just in terms of gender.
‘This country needs new men,’ sang Ina Deter in 1982 (‘Neue Männer braucht das Land’). Forty years ago, women across Europe – including in Switzerland – made their voices heard with energy and vigour. A lot has changed since then, both in the world of business and the field of philanthropy. The proportion of women serving on the boards of directors of the 100 largest Swiss employers has risen to 23 percent. One in ten managers are now women. For the first time ever, two of Europe’s biggest charitable organisations, the European Foundation Centre and the European Venture Philanthropy Association, have appointed two women as CEOs: Delphine Moralis and Roberta Bosurgi. Germany saw an even greater shift in its traditionally conservative charity sector: for the first time in its history, the Association of German Foundations has two women at the helm, with Kirsten Hommelhoff as Secretary General and Friederike von Bünau as chair of the board. In Switzerland, almost a third of all trustees are women.
We’re moving in the right direction – but we have a way to go
While these developments indicate that we are moving in the right direction, they should not obscure the fact that almost a third of all boards of trustees in Switzerland are made up entirely of men – and that diversity is not just a question of gender. The more diverse a board of trustees is – based on its charitable purpose and objectives – the greater its potential impact. Charitable organisations use their work and their funds to shape the future of organisations and initiatives, to set courses and spark debate. They have a direct impact on our society. We need to stay rooted in the now while keeping an eye on the future. A diverse range of different perspectives can help with this. In addition to questions of gender equality, boards of trustees also need to address their profile in terms of age, background, values and experience.
This country needs young trustees
Involving the younger generation – and, in fact, the beneficiaries of its services – is something boards of trustees appear to struggle with. This conclusion emerged from an intense discussion at the 2019 Schweizer Stiftungssymposium in Thun. At the time, only one charity had set itself the strategic goal of rejuvenating its committee by appointing at least one digital native. There are many reasons why the projected average age in Swiss charities is so high. The ban on remuneration for board members – which is still strictly enforced in many cantons – prevents many younger people who are in the middle of their careers from taking on a time-consuming voluntary position. Only very few boards of trustees are tackling the composition and renewal of their committees as a strategic matter and regularly adapting their skills profile to meet the current challenges. When it comes to the candidates, there is a lack of further training options, not only for trustees in general, but particularly in terms of measures aimed at attracting younger people and providing relevant courses. Last but not least, the system of co-optation makes it difficult to appoint more diversified board members. Positions on boards of trustees are still very rarely advertised. The Swiss Society for the Common Good has clearly demonstrated how fruitful this can be, however. Last year, for the first time in its 150-year history, the organisation publicly advertised the open position of chair of the board – and ended up electing 35-year-old Nicola Forster to the position.