European Research Network on Philanthropy

Institutional members

University of Baselceps
Center for Philanthropy Studies
Website: Center for Philanthropy Studies

Steffen Bethmann
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: steffen.bethmann@ unibas.ch

Theresa Gehringer
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: theresa.gehringer@ unibas.ch

Sophie Langloh 
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: sophie.langloh@ unibas.ch

Marybel Perez
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: marybel.perez@ unibas.ch

Oto Potluka
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: oto.potluka@ unibas.ch

Georg von Schnurbein
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: georg.vonschnurbein@ unibas.ch

Sara Stühlinger
Center for Philanthropy Studies
University of Basel
email: sara.stuehlinger@ unibas.ch

Research activities on philanthropy in Switzerland

The Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS) is an interdisciplinary university institute, which aims to connect the different research approaches and theories through a general view on the topics philanthropy and foundations. The center works closely together with other researchers and research institutes to engage in interdisciplinary projects.

The research activities of the CEPS contribute to the growth of knowledge about the following general topics.

  1. Philanthropy and Social Capital

In the Anglo-American understanding the term philanthropy means private actions for the common good. The term covers manifold actions and fields of activities: from a non-recurring donation via voluntary engagement to the establishment of a foundation.

The CEPS deals with all kinds of philanthropy and analyzes its nature within a social context. In particular, we want to analyze and record the social benefit of philanthropy. The theoretical background of our research in this field is the concept of social capital.

Social capital includes social networks, norms and trust. With the help of social capital, collective social aims can be achieved in a better way. Philanthropic activities are, in most instances, investments in social capital. This means that beneficiary foundations

  • enhance cooperation, knowledge accumulation, understanding and social development
  • provide know-how, contacts, opportunities for interaction and financial resources
  1. Governance and the Legitimacy of Foundations

Foundations are the expression of private and charitable engagements, and are therefore important elements of civil society and act as bridge-builders between private activities and governmental programs. Foundations are in a unique legal position, characterized by their independence from the influence of others. Specific requirements come along with this exceptional position. On the one hand, foundations are under federal supervision. On the other hand, internal supervision and control mechanisms are hardly regulated. The Swiss Foundation Code and the Swiss NPO-Code provide foundations with two useful advanced fundamentals for improved governance in foundations.

The CEPS will provide interdisciplinary articles about the application and the implementation of governance as well as the impact of governance on the management of the foundation. The CEPS aims for jurisprudential and sociological analyses. For example, the foundation’s deed is the legitimacy of every foundation and could be viewed within a social framework.

Another deficit in research is the missing data regarding the foundation sector. There is a general lack of data on foundations in Switzerland as well as their central organizational indicators such as employees, budgets, projects etc. This gap shall be closed with the research of our institute. 

  1. Foundations – Strategies, Performance and Potentials

The activities of a foundation are determined by its mission. Through the implementation of this requirement, the foundation board is confronted with far-reaching decision making problems. Due to the lack of standardized indicators, the determination of strategies as well as the measurement of project impact and sustainability is difficult.

Furthermore, beneficiary foundations often depend on intermediaries during the implementation process. Therefore, quality management of project performance depends on more than the foundation alone.

The focus of research in this field is based on the question of how foundations can efficiently manage the process of acquisition, selection, supervision and evaluation of applications. Another important question is how foundations can measure and display the success of their activities. Both questions are joined to analyze successful promotional strategies. These strategies shall be recorded with the help of case studies and qualitative-empirical instruments. Additionally, there is a lack of theoretical background about foundation management. The primary focus of our scientific analysis is the beneficiary foundation. Other types of foundations and nonprofit organizations shall be considered at a later point in time.

In particular, there is a lack of surveys in the field of strategic management, general management, leadership, financial management and asset management. Moreover, the influence of foundation size on the management potential has yet to be analyzed. 

  1. Corporate Citizenship

Since concepts like Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Citizenship have become more popular, the importance of organizations as sponsors and partners of civil society has risen considerably. However, there is often a significant gap between the practical implementation of a model and its respective underlying theory. The CEPS wants to examine and analyze the philanthropic contributions of corporations by looking at how corporate citizenship and profit orientation can strategically be combined to create added value for both the corporations and the non-profit organizations.

Another area being examined by the CEPS, within the field of corporate commitment, are hybrid organizations such as Social Business, Venture Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship. While these business forms emerged and developed through practical application, it is of particular interest to analyze how charitable and economic purposes are reconciled, and how these conclusions can be applied to other types of NPOs.

A detailed list of current and completed projects of the CEPS can be found here >>.

Data Sources

Different data sources exist on private donations, volunteering, nonprofits’ activities, foundations etc. in Switzerland. An overview can be found in the below table, followed by a brief description of the corresponding organizations.

Overview of Data Sources



Survey name

(current issue)

Object of research Sample Survey Frequency
BFS Freiwilligenarbeit in der Schweiz (2010) Time donations 40’000 Swiss inhabitants above 15 years

representative random sampling

approx. every 3 to 4 years
SGG Freiwilligenmonitor / Volunteer Work Bulletin


Time donations 5’721 Swiss inhabitants above 15 years

representative random sampling

approx. every 3 years

Spendenstatistik (2014)

Monetary donations 431 ZEWO accredited nonprofit organizations annual
gfs-zürich Spendenmonitor (2014) Monetary donations 1’530 Swiss inhabitants above 15 years

representative random sampling

one marketing Studie Spendenmarkt (2008) Monetary donations 2’000 Swiss inhabitants above 15 years

representative random sampling

CEPS Swiss Foundation Report (2016)


Foundation giving CEPS database of Swiss foundations annual

Swiss Federal Statistical Office (BFS)

The Swiss Federal Statistical Office (BFS) coordinates the public statistics system of Switzerland. The office collects data on the voluntary activity of Swiss inhabitants above 15 years every three to four years since 1997, within the framework of the Swiss Labor Force Survey (SAKE).

Schweizerische Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft (SGG)

The SGG (engl. Swiss Public Welfare Society) was founded in 1810. The organization has created a monitoring tool of the voluntary action in Switzerland, called “Frewilligenmonitor”. The initial survey was published in December 2007, with updates approximately every three years.

Schweizerische Zertifizierungsstelle für gemeinnützige Spenden sammelnde Organisationen (ZEWO)

The foundation ZEWO is the Swiss certification authority for nonprofit organizations that collect charitable donations. On an annual basis, ZEWO collects data on the revenue structure of its ZEWO accredited organizations. The main findings are later on published in the so called “ZEWO Spendenstatistik”.

GFS-Forschungsinstitut (gfs-zürich)

The private social research institute gfs-zürich publishes an annual “Spendenmonitor” whose insights stem from a survey on donation behavior and public image of nonprofit organizations in Switzerland.

One marketing services

In 2008, the privately owned market and social research institute published in 2008 a study called “Spendenmarkt Schweiz”.  The study focuses on the donation behavior of Swiss inhabitants above 15 years. It has not been updated in recent years.

Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS)

The Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS) collects and prepares data on foundations in Switzerland and on their central organizational indicators such as employees, budgets, projects etc. on a regular basis. Initial findings are being presented in working papers and are generally available on the center’s website. Key research findings on the Swiss foundation sector are published annually in the “Swiss Foundation Report”, together with the umbrella organization SwissFoundations and the Center for Foundation Law at University of Zurich.

  1. Descriptive statistics

Philanthropy includes every voluntary private action for a charitable purpose. In the below section, some interesting facts and key figures about philanthropy in Switzerland are presented.


  • The estimated value of private monetary donations was 1.7 billion CHF in 2014 (ZEWO Spendenstatistik, 2014)
  • Swiss households donated more in 2013 than in average in the years before. The estimated average donation sum per household counted approximately 490 Swiss Francs in 2013. This increase in the average donation sum per household ran parallel in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. In German-speaking regions, people donate about 522 Swiss Francs, whereas 285 Swiss Francs were donated in average in French-speaking regions (gfs Spendenmonitor, 2013).
  • In average, a Swiss household supported a total of 4 charitable organizations in 2013 (gfs Spendenmonitor, 2013)
  • In 2014 two-thirds of the Swiss private households have donated for charitable organizations. Most frequently donations have been done for disease control, disabled persons and children. Payments for refugees have increased the most. It’s little less than the year before (gfs Spendenmonitor, 2014).
  • As in the years before there have been made more donations from women than from men (69% vs. 63%) and as most of the times the giver proportion in the Romandie in 2014 is significantly lower as in the German speaking part of Switzerland (57% vs. 69%) (gfs Spendenmonitor, 2014).
  • Young people donate strictly less than the average of the population. The point of time at which substantially people spend more is laid between 27 and 28 years (gfs Spendenmonitor, 2014).

Time Donations

  • People who are actively involved in voluntary work spend 13.3 hours per month for formal (e.g. board member in the sports club) and 15.3 hours for informal (e.g. neighbourhood help) voluntary work (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2013).
  • Every fourth person in Switzerland performs an unpaid activity.  (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2013).
  • The total amount of formal and informal voluntary work is estimated to be 665 million hours per year. This equals 80 million working days. By using the labour cost approach, these hours worked can be valued at approximately 41 billions CHF. (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2015).


  • There are 13,046 charitable foundations in Switzerland. The total amount of their endowments adds up to around 70 billion CHF.
  • The annual payout of Swiss grant-making foundations is estimated to be 1.5 – 2 billion CHF.
  • Over 85% of the charitable foundations administer an endowment of less than 5 million CHF (Swiss Foundation Report, 2015).
  • The share of charitable foundations that have been founded since 2000, is at 41.6%. (Swiss Foundation Report, 2016)
  • Basel-Stadt is the canton with the highest density of foundations (with 45.7 foundations per 10’000 residents). Zurich is the canton with the most foundations in Switzerland (2,261 in total). (Swiss Foundation Report, 2016)


  •  An estimated number of 76’438 associations exist in Switzerland (Helmig et al., 2010).
  • In 2004, around 2.7 million members were active in 22’578 sports associations. In 1995, 3.4 million members were counted in 27’090 sports associations (Lamprecht, 2005).
  • All of the unpaid hours of work in the third sector in Switzerland add up to approximately 80’000 full time positions (Helmig et al., 2010).

For Profit Organizations

  • In 2014, companies donated a total of 32 million CHF to the 446 organizations holding the ZEWO-Gütesiegel (ZEWO Spendenstatistik, 2014).
  • The total amount of donations from companies is estimated to be 1 billion CHF in 2009 (von Schnurbein/Bethmann 2010; Ammann et al. 2004)

Details on sources used in the above section can be found here >>.

The CEPS regularly publishes its scientific findings in a number of scientific Media and Publications.

At the same time, the CEPS is committed to promoting the knowledge transfer from research into practice in its own publication series CEPS Forschung und Praxis (CEPS Research and Practice).

An overview on published books and reports in chronological order can be found here>>.