The metamorphosis of philanthropy
“Measuring the impact of the lifetime gift, strengthening the collaboration between the public and private sectors, conditional lifetime gifts linked to joint investment, modern governance patterned after the private sector, and so on... philanthropy explores various options and novel initiatives – the revolution is underway.” Denis Pittet, Chairman, Fondation Philanthropia (an umbrella foundation associated with Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd) and member of several philanthropic foundations established in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, philanthropic undertakings are implemented in a framework that is often deemed ideal. Avenir Suisse (Think Tank for economic and social issues) underscores this fact in its 2015 report focussed on foundations. The think-tank considers that Switzerland is a hybrid philanthropic model owing not only to the framework conditions but also to the dynamic nature of the donors that help sustain the expansion of this activity.
Switzerland is mid-way between the conventional European model – where lifetime gifts are bequeathed to future generations for public good – and the Anglosphere model with its strong tradition of civil commitment and flexible legal framework. The vitality of Swiss philanthropy is also seen in actual practice experienced daily by the foundation advisers. It opens up new avenues that warrant both interest and respect.
First and foremost, Swiss foundations, which are organised within professional bodies such as SwissFoundation or ProFonds, seem to be increasingly aware of the role they play and the contribution they make to society at large. The most professionalised of these are also conscious of the need to measure the impact of their support and clearly identify the needs of their beneficiaries. It has therefore become important for all foundations to understand the details of the project to support and the results to expect before making a gift. Besides, given the current economic environment and its shrinking State budgets, there is a need for greater complementarity between public and private actions. It is now crucial to bring the stakeholders – the state, the provinces, actors in the field, and philanthropists – closer together.
In Geneva, this trend is illustrated in Fondation Philanthropia's support to Capas (Collective of associations for social action). Capas brings together thirty-five organisations of varying sizes, all engaged in community social work concerning divergent populations in precarious conditions. Capas coordinates the collection of data by its members in order to be able to attest to its added value and determine how best to complement the action conducted by government bodies. The incentive from the measured impact of the work achieved by the associations and their constructive exchange with the State provide the foundations with the means of contributing towards a more inclusive society and caring for people with hardships more efficiently. The first-time venture of launching a "social impact bond" in Bern in 2015, for the private financing of a public social programme, is another illustration of the foundations’ quest for new tools of action. In this case, the objective was to ensure the rapid and sustained inclusion of refugees in the labour market.
As a preferred point of contact, the world of Swiss philanthropic foundations is aware that its credibility as an actor depends upon its professionalisation and its conscientious governance, as also upon the quality of its interaction with the beneficiary organisations and surveillance authorities. For this reason, an updated version of the Swiss Foundations Code was published in 2015. This self-regulation material is an easy-to-read, handy guide. Its principles and recommendations are applicable to foundations of all types and all sizes. It deals notably with essential topics such as creation and composition of the foundation board, management of conflicts of interest, investment strategy, distribution policy, project selection, transparency, etc.
Through its activities, a donor foundation sometimes has the privilege – the duty even – of taking risks for common good. As an example, some years ago, Fondation Philanthropia decided to support a pilot programme for the medical and psychological follow-up of teenagers with cancer. Given the success of that programme, Institut Curie in Paris has now fully taken over the project. This true-life illustration shows how, with a private sponsor's one-off action over just three years, an innovative programme will continue to live on within a public-funded prestigious organisation. The venture conducted by Fondation Philanthropia with the public institution of Château de Versailles is a shining example of the lasting impact of philanthropic contribution, as well as of private-public collaboration. During the various restoration projects at Versailles, Fondation Philanthropia had, in particular, fixed the additional contribution from an external sponsor as a condition to its financial commitment. More importantly, in its agreement on the complete restoration of the Latona fountain, the foundation had demanded the development of apprentices' skills and their training in the crafts to ensure that these ancient crafts will continue to thrive with the next generation of workers and offer unrivalled know-how (marble-workers, gilders, fountain technicians, stonesmiths, etc.). Now, in its calls to tender, Château de Versailles always promotes the training of young workers in these specific crafts, and at the same time, the fountain technician status has since been recognised by the Ministry of Culture.
It is our social responsibility as sponsors to make a sustainable impact in a rapidly-changing philanthropic landscape. This calls for open dialogue with our partners from whom we can learn precious lessons. As umbrella foundation, we have the duty of understanding the values of each of the donors to best meet their expectations. Specifically, our Foundation Board supports the donor's wishes for a wide variety of projects, from fighting against exclusion of people in distress by throwing a lifeline of hope their way, to in vitro research encouraging research scientists to develop efficient and alternative research capacity to substitute for animal testing. In this way, the foundation offers its donors a legal, financial and philanthropic framework for made-to-measure projects covering all areas of civil commitment.
The foundation world is undergoing a complete transformation as seen in the multiple initiatives being taken. One fact however remains constant; as Sir Winston Churchill put it: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give".
Translation of the article published in French in “L’Agefi Magazine”, Switzerland, September 2016
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