Legitimization of foundation activities, foundation governance, sector developments – since 2013
The large number of foundations in the country is an expression of how Switzerland’s society and state perceive themselves. Liberalism, taking responsibility and a readiness to do voluntary work are key fundamental drivers that cause people to engage in philanthropic activities and to donate a part of their personal assets to charitable causes. The growth seen by the foundation sector is therefore enabled not only by increased prosperity but also by suitable and dependable conditions.
Foundations are not independent, detached constructs pursuing an immutably fixed objective. They are just as exposed to ambient influences and developments as other organizations. As borne out by their centuries-long tradition, foundations have frequently adopted new forms and been given new remits in order to provide a benefit to society.
As a founding member of SwissFoundations, the umbrella association of Swiss grant-making foundations, Gebert Rüf Stiftung is committed to promoting the dynamic development of Switzerland’s foundation sector. To remain effective and innovative going forward, it is essential to actively participate in a debate on issues of self-regulation, positioning and the development of strategic concepts.
Switzerland’s liberal foundation legislation is regularly cited as a positive example on an international comparison. The high degree and quality of self-regulation also garner positive acclaim. The Swiss Foundation Code, Swiss GAAP ARR, the Swiss NPO Code and other such standards play a significant role as regards professionalizing the sector, without limiting the statutory freedom of individual founders and philanthropists to structure their vehicles. At the same time, the growing trend toward committing to governance places other organizations under pressure to do likewise. As foundations increasingly adopt self-regulation, this is proving an effective way of raising the sector’s impact and also enhances the standing enjoyed by Swiss foundations in the international arena.
Foundations are primarily seen in the context of their assets. However, given that over 80% of Swiss foundations have smaller-scale asset holdings of less than CHF 5 million, it is essential to increasingly focus public awareness on other advantages and potential benefits that foundations offer. Foundations provide indispensable services in all areas of society as bridge builders, instigators and knowledge brokers. The fact that foundations tend only to be perceived in stereotyped terms is largely due to a lack of understanding about the sector as well as insufficient transparency. The significance of the foundation sector should be promoted by actively positioning it vis-à-vis society, business and state in order to highlight the social benefits it creates.
Development of strategic concepts
Foundations want to play a part in society’s development. To accomplish this objective, foundations constantly need new impetus to further their own development. The promotion of interdisciplinary research on philanthropy and the foundation system is therefore not an end in itself, but a tool to improve the attainment and impact of foundation goals. The insights acquired should be used as a basis for developing strategic concepts designed to make foundations more effective at the commitment level.
SwissFoundations – the leading association of grant-making foundations in Switzerland
SwissFoundations currently unites 80 grant-making foundations in Switzerland and gives them a strong and independent voice. The association maintains a dense national and European network, champions optimum legal and social conditions for foundation activities and is committed to the entrepreneurial principles of good governance and results-oriented management. Through its activities and publications, SwissFoundations sets sector and quality standards, contributes to a credible and results-driven foundation landscape and supports its members in their responsible philanthropic work, the significance of which is constantly growing both in terms of civil society and economically. Via its members, SwissFoundations represents over 20% of total estimated distributions by charitable foundations in Switzerland.
Among other achievements, SwissFoundations has made a name for itself by publishing Europe’s first-ever foundation governance code for grant-making foundations (Swiss Foundation Code), by launching Switzerland’s first interdisciplinary centre of excellence addressing questions relating to foundations and philanthropy (Centre for Philanthropy Studies) in 2008, and as publisher of the annual Swiss Foundation Report together with two cooperation partners.