Supporting Switzerland as a top location for foundations
Switzerland is seen as a paradise for foundations thanks to its liberal legal framework and long philanthropic tradition. The number and size of the foundations is also considerably larger than in other countries.
Although grant-making foundations have enormous potential to address social scarcities, they still have a great deal of scope in terms of what they can achieve and how they position the sector. The interplay of effects, however, is hardly a topic of traditional foundation work. In pursuit of its core aim of strengthening Switzerland «as a place to live and do business» as defined in its statement of purpose, and as a young foundation dedicated to innovation, Gebert Rüf Stiftung is active in promoting Switzerland as a top location for foundations by working toward a professionalization of the sector at the interface of politics, science and grant-making practice.
The foundation sector in Switzerland
As an institutional form of philanthropy, foundations enjoy a high degree of social recognition. Switzerland’s foundation sector has witnessed above-average growth in the last ten years, combined with increasing professionalization. 37% of all social nonprofit foundations were established between 2002 and 2012. The combined total assets of all foundations is estimated to have risen from approximately CHF 30 billion to over CHF 70 billion in the same period. Given the many different forms of foundation operating, their overall economic significance cannot be judged solely in terms of financial capital. The number of people working for foundations in Switzerland is currently almost 150,000, which is larger than the country’s bank workforce, for instance.
Among the factors behind the success of the Swiss foundation sector are the liberal and equable foundation legislation, the low degree of regulation, strong local ties, an attractive financial sector and high economic output as well as respect for the right to establish foundations.
The unknown foundation paradise Switzerland
Favourable conditions for foundations have made Switzerland a «paradise for foundations». However, the socio-political debate on the role and significance of the foundation sector has not kept up with the rapid pace of its growth. In Switzerland, however, there is no discernible foundation sector and no sectoral self-awareness. Moreover, reliable data are unavailable, the entire foundation sector is under-researched and, not least, there is no clarity concerning its significance, ways of functioning and performance mechanisms. Hardly any other business segment has been subjected to less analytical scrutiny than the foundation sector, nor is the latter perceived as a coherent community facing common tasks and challenges. As a consequence, the media continue to rely on tired clichés when reporting on foundations, as do politicians when voicing their expectations of the sector.
Making the foundation sector more effective
Promoting a conscientious and forward-looking analysis of the foundation sector and transferring knowledge to policymakers and society at large should help to increase the social good that foundations do and to meet the challenges of a changing society. Primarily, this includes a better understanding of what foundations achieve well beyond providing financial resources. Their legally secured independence gives foundations unique potential as agents and sincere «brokers» to mediate equitably between policymakers, the business community and society, between people from different social backgrounds and strata, or between ideologies. Foundations are not a replacement for state support but can supplement and sometimes correct government programmes.
As the number of foundations grows – and hence the number of foundation trustees and employees – the expectations that are made of the foundations themselves also increase. The promotion of programmes, projects and organizations which strengthen the foundation sector and help to develop a sectoral awareness makes a substantial contribution to creating future growth for the common good.
Having an impact on society
The absence of sectoral awareness and the lack of statistical coverage go hand in hand with an ignorance of the role played by the foundation sector in society's development. Foundations today face the challenge not only of proving that they are achieving something, but also of communicating the impact that they have made. Specifically, this includes documenting and publicizing successful models and projects.
In pursuit of its core aim of strengthening Switzerland «as a place to live and do business» as defined in its statement of purpose, Gebert Rüf Stiftung is active in promoting Switzerland as a top location for foundations. In line with its strategic objectives under the heading of «Stiftung & Schweiz», Gebert Rüf Stiftung provides targeted start-up financing for university-based projects and promotes the projects of intermediary organizations as well as activities designed to transfer and disseminate knowledge: