European Research Network on Philanthropy

Individual members

Gian Paolo Barbetta
Università Cattolica di Milano
email: gianpaolo.barbetta@

Renzo Rossi
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
email: renzo.rossi@

Francesco Scarpat
Instituto Italiano della Donazione
email: francesco.scarpat@

Current research projects on philanthropy in Italy

The Research Center on Philanthropy and Social Innovation PHaSI at the University of Bologna, directed by Giuliana Gemelli has a partnership with the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University in the United States.
It approaches the studies on philanthropy from a multidisciplinary perspective.

PHaSI organizes since 2001 the Master in International Studies in Philanthropy and Social Innovation (MISP) and since 2009 a doctoral program on Global Studies in Philanthropy.

PHaSI publishes Giving, thematic issues in philanthropy and social innovation. Giving is a peer-reviewed, English language, international academic journal focusing on philanthropy.

The current philanthropic research projects conducted by PHaSI researchers include the following areas:

a. Religions and Philanthropy.
b. Horizontal Philanthropy.
c. Social and Civic Entrepreneurship in historical and comparative perspective.
d. Philanthropy in Western Countries: the role of Philanthropic Organizations in research and scientific institutional building.

Current state of Giving Research in Italy

The state of giving research in Italy is in an early stage. This is basically related to the historical factor of the rather inconsistent work done by statistics national agency ISTAT. As shown in the table reproduced below, there is a substantial lack of well-constructed taxonomies to define the dimension of giving in Italy.
Table 1. Area of activity of philanthropic institutions

Area of activity
Social Assistance
Financing Projects
Economic development and social cohesion
International cooperation and solidarity
Sport & recreation
Civil rights and political activities
Number of foundations
In Italy, giving is still considered as an act of benevolence without a specific aim. This is why the category of philanthropy is still defined separately from other patterns of granting at the level of the giving organization. This limit is overwhelmed by the fact that
a- the census has not addressed any specific question about giving at the level of the household.
b- ipso facto we have very poor knowledge about family giving including the organized dimension of family private independent foundations.
The second main relevant aspect is related to the fact that the development of giving organization in Italy (Foundations – both family private and corporate, as well as those originated from bank origins or financial institutions) has a relatively short history. This history started in the late 1980s of the last century. It is a fact that an attempt to strengthen the role of private giving organizations and corporate foundations was made in the mid-sixties with the creation of a small number of American-style grant-making foundations and some important cultural foundations based on family initiatives like the Fondazione Einaudi, the Fondazione Feltrinelli, and the Fondazione Agnelli as well as the Fondazione Adriano Olivetti. All of these are still very important foundations in Italy, with a profile based on mixed activities – operating and grant-making rather than only grant-making which was and still is mainly an operating foundation. Actually, the model of “pure” grant-making foundation did not develop very much in Italy and this includes also both the family and private foundations.
A deeper analysis of this phenomenon in historical perspective reveals that a relevant obstacle vis-à-vis the development of private initiative in giving was related to the dominant role of the Catholic church. Since the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of Christianity, the Church has created a quasi monopoly in the assistance and control of the poor. The modern substitute of the foundation in Italy at the end of the 19th century did nothing to change this quasi monopoly since on the one hand they allowed a coordination of the assistance to the poor, but on the other hand exercised political control which benefitted the authoritarian governments until the fascist era.
It is also a matter of fact that family giving during the last century has been more directed towards traditional activities following eleemosynary patterns rather than developing strategic grant-making. In the last twenty years, a growing number of family foundations have been created but this has not affected the giving patterns of Italian citizens very much since most of them prefer to give to the Church rather than to support new and to some extent “risky” initiatives – or initiatives perceived to be risky – originating from civil society.
Foundations in Italy seem to do much and rather better in attracting donations and bequests.
Table 2. Foundation type and composition of financial sources

Foundation type
Composition of financial sources
(50% of the total)
– 54% from the Italian government (contracts, subsidies and grants)
– 30% from sales of products
– 3% from the return on capital investments
– less than 3% donations or associates contributions
(20% of the total)
–         86% from return on capital investments (more than half from foundations originating from banks return on endowments)
–         10% from founder contribution
–         less than 2% from other donations
Foundation type
Composition of financial sources
(30% of the total)
–         48.2% from members’ fees or associated members’ contributions
–         18% from the Italian government (mainly contracts, but also earmarks and grants)
–         17.3% from return on capital investments
–         6.2% from sales of products
–         less than 5% from other donations
In order to give an idea of the situation of Italian philanthropy, we have collected the key figures from the most recently available studies on the subject. Each component will then be analyzed in separate paragraphs.
Table 3. Giving in Italy

Foundation giving
(2006 survey)
Nearly €4 billion in grants for social purposes[1], compared to a total expenditure of €11.5 billion on the part of both grantmaking and operating foundations
Note: total expenditure of foundations of originating from banks reached €1.5 billion, of which about 92% went towards grants (and 25% of these grants to NPOs)[2]
Individual donations to NPOs
(2005 estimate[3])
Over €4 billion. This includes religiously inspired public benefit organizations, but not alms to the Church or religious congregations. It is estimated that less than 2.5% of this sum consisted of bequests.
Corporate giving
(2005 estimate)
€266 million, not including in-kind donations and other sponsorships that are deducted as costs instead of charitable donations.
Cinque per mille – Government allocation of 0,5% of personal income tax (2006 official data)
€395 million. This represents direct contributions from individuals who are free to give their personal share of taxes to their favourite NPO or research institution.
 If we compare this to the main US source for similar data – Giving USA 2006 – we see that total giving is about 4-5 times smaller in Italy than in the US, while individual giving is about 6-7 times smaller[4]:
· Foundations $30 billion (11.5% of the total) of which $4 billion from corporate foundations
· Individuals $200 billion (76.5% of the total) + bequests $17 billion (6.7%)
· Corporations $14 billion (5.3% of the total)
The claim that in Italy (as well as in the rest of Europe) the government supports nonprofits much more than in the US is not really true. According to recent studies, income of nonprofit organizations from direct and indirect US governmental sources is estimated to be at least 30%[5] (not including the contributions to faith-based initiatives), a statistic comparable with Italian data, which confirm the income from public sources to be about 35%. In any case, contracts and subsidies from public sources are by and large the main source of income for the tertiary sector, with annual contributions amounting to over €15 billion.
It is always very important to take this quantitative approach to philanthropy if we want to adopt a critical and constructive perspective on what can be realistically achieved in Europe. Government spending on public health alone accounts for about €90 billion, while overall public expenditure is about 50% of the national GDP. Therefore it is obvious that philanthropy – let alone foundations – could never replace the State in the provision of social services. In spite of this, both individual culture and political attention have drastically altered the Italian landscape in the last 15 years. We will continue our analysis by examining the new environment in which Italian foundations function.
What has really changed the scenario is the role of volunteering and the donations not only of money but also of time, skills and intellectual and social capital that circulate through this vehicle, which produce significantly more relevant and large quantities of information and empirical data.

Source: Wiepking, P. (Ed.) The State of Giving Research in Europe. Household donations to Charitable Organizations in Twelve Countries. Pallas Publications: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. order here.

[1] ISTAT, Italian National Census Bureau, “First survey on Foundations”, result published in November 2007
[2] ACRI , Italian Association of Saving Banks and Bank-origin Fondations, “11th Report”
[3] Source Istituto Ricerca Sociale, IRS
[4] This elaboration include the population ratio US-Italy of 6:1 but is biased by exchange rate fluctuations
[5] Source: NCCS – Urban institute,


Recent publications on philanthropy in Italy

Bolognesi, Deborah. “Le origini del Cepas: dalla “Scuola di Guido Calogero” al “Gruppo della Zucconi” in Politiche Scientifiche e Strategie d’impresa: Le Culture Olivettiane ed i loro contesti, a cura di Giuliana Gemelli, Quaderni della Fondazione Adriano Olivetti n° 15, Roma.
Bolognesi, Deborah. Costruire le istituzioni, il ruolo di Angela Zucconi tra impegno sociale e imprenditorialità scientifica, Edizioni Associate, Roma, 2009
Gemelli, Giuliana. Soft Power. Foundations, social reformers and European scientific integration Peter Lang, Brussels, in press
Gemelli, Giuliana and R. Mirabella, Non profit and Philanthropyc Studies International Overview of the Field in Africa Canadian Latin America Asia tha Pacific and Europe inn Non Profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly vol.36 n.4 December 2007 pp.110 -136
Gemelli, Giuliana and P. Palenzona, Global investment and community development: the challenge of the micro-owned utilities. An interview with benson Lee, President of TMI, Cleveland, Ohio, in Giving, Thematic Issues on Philanthropy and Social Innovation, “Social Entrepreneurship in the International Context. Historical perspectives”, Bologna: BUP, 2008
Gemelli, Giuliana and D. Bolognesi, “Leadership from Inside”: community development and social entrepreneurship in the South of Italy after the Second World War, in Giving, Thematic Issues on Philanthropy and Social Innovation, “Social Entrepreneurship in the International Context. Historical perspectives”, Bologna: BUP, 2008
Gemelli, Giuliana and P. Palenzona, Dancing with Fashion.Seeking for a New Model of Partnership and Innovation in Corporate Citizenship, in ISTR Conference Working Papers?Volume VI?Barcelona Conference 2008
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. Religions and Philanthropy. Global Issues in Historical Perspective. Legacy of Misp. Bologna: Baskerville, 2007.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. Nuove scienze per l’amministrazione. Le origini della SPISA: tra innovazione istituzionale e normalizzazione accademica. Bologna: Bologna University Press, 2007.
Gemelli, Giuliana. “Vincoli e opportunità del cambiamento organizzativo: la governance delle Fondazioni tra strategia e struttura.” Working Paper Series. DSS Papers SOC 4-06. Università di Brescia. Dipartimento di Studi Sociali, 2006.
Cock, Jaklyn and Alison Bernstein. I Colori della Differenza. Intrecci di Culture e Nazioni tra Stati Uniti e Sudafrica. Translated by Francesca Montanari. Bologna: Bonomia University Press, 2006.
Gemelli, Giuliana. “Politiche scientifiche e strategie d’impresa nella Ricostruzione. I contesti olivettiani.” Quaderni della Fondazione Adriano Olivetti. Quaderno n.51, Roma: 2005.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. Fondazioni Universitarie. Radici Storiche e Configuarzioni Istituzionali. Legacy of Misp. Bologna: Baskerville, 2005.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. Filantropi di Ventura. Rischio, Responsabilità, Riflessività nell’Agire Filantropico. Legacy of Misp. Bologna: Baskerville, 2004.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Politiche scientifiche e strategie d’impresa nella Ricostruzione. Un confronto Francia – Italia. Mèlanges’ dell’Ecole Française de Rome, 2004.
Modenesi, Daniela. “Muslim Civil Society Members in Germany: A Report on the State of the Project ‘Philanthropy in Muslim Societies: Institutionalised Mechanism for Community Development.” Maecenata Aktuell, Nr. 40, Maecenata Institut, June 2003, pp. 13-32.

Gemelli, Giuliana and Roy. Macleod. American Foundations in Europe. Grant Giving Policies, Cultural Diplomacy and TransAtlantic Relations, 1920-1980. Brussels: Peter Lang, 2003.

Gemelli, Giuliana and Flaminio Squazzoni. Ed. NEHS/NESSI. Istituzioni, mappe cognitive e culture del progetto tra ingegneria e scienze umane. Bologna: Baskerville, 2003.

Gemelli, Giuliana and Roy MacLeod. “American Foundations in Europe. The Role of the program Officers in Historical Perspective.” Special Issue of Minerva, Vol. XLI, Number 2, 2003, pp. 95-99.

Gemelli, Giuliana and Girolamo Ramunni. Isole senza arcipelago. Imprenditori scientifici, reti e istituzioni tra Otto e Novecento. Bari: Palomar, 2003.

Gemelli Giluliana Le elites della competenza, Bologna il Mulino 1997
Gemelli, Giuliana and Franco Ferrarotti. Un imprenditore di idee; Una testimonianza su adriano Olivetti. Torino: Edizioni di Comunità, 2001.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. American foundations and large-scale research: construction and transer of knowledge. Bologna: CLUEB, 2001.
Gemelli, Giuliana. Ed. “The unacceptables”. American Foundations and the Refugee Scholars Between the TwoWars and After. Bern, NewYork, Brussels: P.I.E, Peter Lang, 2000.

Gemelli, Giuliana. “Le fondazioni culturali in Italia. Origini storiche e primi sviluppi istituzionali.” Numero speciale della rivista Società e storia, n. 90, 2000.

Gemelli, Giuliana. Reti di eccellenza. Le fondazioni americane e l’Italia. Bologna: Bologna University Press, (Forthcoming).
“Social Entrepreneurship. Historical roots and new challenges.” Giving. Thematic Issues in Philanthropy and Social Innovation. Biannual Journal. Bononia University Press, 01/2008.