Uniting theory and practice

Alice Hengevoss, interviewed by Stefan Schöbi

Alice, what is philanthropy’s most pres­sing need? 

Trust and a willing­ness to take risks. You need courage to take the risk of provi­ding support in areas where you don’t know what the outcome will be. And you need to have enough trust in the people recei­ving that support, who know better than anyone else what they need. The new ‘Applied rese­arch’ area sees us attempt to under­pin these central pillars and derive added value from them.

Theory or prac­tice: what’s your pick?

The great thing about my work is that we bring toge­ther both worlds.
We use know­ledge and methods from funda­men­tal rese­arch in a targe­ted way to answer ques­ti­ons of prac­ti­cal rele­vance and iden­tify current trends. These include the need for a new, syste­ma­tic process that takes into account a foundation’s funding approach and volume. In turn, this rein­forces the effi­ci­ency and effec­ti­ve­ness of phil­an­thro­pic acti­vity. We want to contri­bute to this inno­va­tive process of syste­ma­tis­a­tion and intend to fortify our colla­bo­ra­tion with part­ners like StiftungSchweiz to this end.

What ques­ti­ons do foun­da­ti­ons and other NPOs ask you?

Day-to-day work in the phil­an­thro­pic sector is very varied – and so are the ques­ti­ons asked. A desire to look outside the box repres­ents a clear trend.We put toge­ther the first Gran­tee Review Report for Swiss­Foun­da­ti­ons and the foun­da­tion Merca­tor Schweiz in 2020. The report inves­ti­ga­tes how appli­cants find the funding process. Last year, we offe­red acade­mic support with the closure – known as the ‘sunset’ – of a large Swiss grant giving foun­da­tion and deve­lo­ped a guide to drawing up a sunset stra­tegy for spend-down foun­da­ti­ons. At present, we’re carry­ing out a study on the fees earned by trus­tees at Swiss grant giving foun­da­ti­ons, in light of the revi­sion of Swiss stock corpo­ra­tion law. We hope this helps enhance trans­pa­rency in the sector.

Alice Henge­voss is a rese­arch assistant who has been Head of the ‘Applied Rese­arch’ area at the Center for Phil­an­thropy Studies (CEPS) at the Univer­sity of Basel since 2023. She studied Econo­mics at the Univer­sity of Zurich and Laval Univer­sity in Quebec, before comple­ting her docto­ral degree in NPO Manage­ment in 2021.


The CEPS is an inter­di­sci­pli­nary insti­tute for rese­arch and further educa­tion in the NPO sector and a univer­sity-based think tank. Its acti­vi­ties aim to improve the acade­mic ground­work and know­ledge rela­ting to phil­an­thropy and, by exten­sion, to help enhance prac­ti­cal phil­an­thro­pic endea­vours. In parti­cu­lar, the CEPS hopes to support the syste­ma­tis­a­tion of the sector and improve docu­men­ta­tion prac­ti­ces within it. ceps.unibas.ch

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