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European Research Network on Philanthropy

ESSEC Business School

Chair in Philanthropy

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Arthur Gautier
ESSEC Business School
Chair in Philanthropy
email: gautierart@

Anne-Claire Pache
ESSEC Business School
Chair in Philanthropy
Email: pache@

The ESSEC Chair in Philanthropy at ESSEC Business School was established in 2011 and has its headquarters in Cergy, France. Major academic disciplines are organization theory, management, history, sociology, and social psychology. Key research topics of the Chair are impact, institutionalization, history, hybridity, and strategy. Research questions that are being addressed by the Chair are, among others:

  • What are the different strategies that philanthropic organizations can adopt?
  • How do philanthropic ideas & practices evolve over time?
  • How do foundations collectively tackle climate change?
  • How do foundations construct their decisions to support grantees?
  • What does systems change mean for philanthropy?
  • What is the role of philanthropy in cross-sector partnerships?


Introduction on Giving Research in France

Arthur Gautier[1] and Laurence de Nervaux[2]

Research on philanthropy in France is both scarce and diverse. The scarcity stems from the fact that for a long time, dating back to the French Revolution, private giving was not encouraged and thus remained quite secret, as the French State was considered the sole ruler and custodian of the common good. However, for the past few years, there seems to be a new interest for giving research, which may be connected to a strong renewal and increased visibility of philanthropic practices in the country since the 1970s (Gautier, Pache and Mossel, 2015).

The diversity of philanthropic research in France is remarkable. Private giving has been studied by a variety of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, economists and management scholars. As highlighted below, knowledge is extremely scattered across disciplines, and it is difficult to have a comprehensive picture of the whole. Besides, most of these research efforts have been made by individual scholars rather than research teams. To the best of our knowledge, the Philanthropy Chair at the ESSEC Business School[3] is the only academic research centre in academia specialised in private giving research.

Most French historians who study philanthropy have focused on the 19th century, during which organised philanthropy – secular and religious – progressed significantly (Delalande, 2011; Duprat, 1993; Marais, 1999). But other scholars have also published on religious giving before the French Revolution (Brejon de Lavergnée, 2011) as well as the influence of American foundations in Europe during the 20th century (Tournès, 2008, 2010).

In the revisited tradition of Marcel Mauss, anthropologists and sociologists in France and in Québec have produced a major stream of publications to rehabilitate giving as a cornerstone of social relations and exchanges, not only in archaic but also in modern societies, alongside state and market dynamics (Chanial, 2008; Godbout & Caillé, 2007; Godelier, 1996). In a different genre, anthropologist Marc Abélès published a fascinating study of ‘new philanthropists’ in the Silicon Valley and two studies on the giving patterns of very wealthy Europeans, including the French (Abélès & Kohler, 2009, 2014).

Another stream of French sociology scholarship used a critical lens to analyse philanthropy as a domination mechanism of financial and political elites to further their class interests (Dezalay & Garth, 1998; Guilhot, 2004, 2006). Recent works by young sociologists and political scientists offered comparative, empirical studies contrasting France and the United States (Chelle, 2011; Duvoux, 2014; Rozier, 2009). Finally, we should mention Anne Bory’s (2013; Bory & Lochard, 2009) sociological work on corporate volunteering and corporate social responsibility.

Besides the contributions of Edith Archambault (1996, 1997) to the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, few economists in France have published on philanthropy. Exceptions include Landais and Fack’s (2010; 2009) insightful research on the efficiency – or lack thereof – of tax incentives for charitable giving in France. Management scholars in France also recently published works  on various aspects of giving, such as the marketing of bequests (Rieunier & Michel, 2013), the effects of non-profit brand image on giving behaviour (Michel & Rieunier, 2012) and the rise of family philanthropy (Gautier & Pache, 2014). Unsurprisingly, French management scholars have published several articles and books on corporate social responsibility (Acquier & Gond, 2007; Gond & Igalens, 2014; Igalens & Gond, 2005), which generally encompass corporate giving, but few of them actually focus on donations per se. Gautier and Pache (2015) recently published a comprehensive survey of the academic literature on corporate philanthropy across management and social sciences.

Outside academia, relevant research on philanthropy has mainly been conducted by CerPhi[4], a private research institute, which publishes regular surveys and studies on individual giving, and Fondation de France’s Observatory[5], which aims to analyse and improve the understanding of the scope and mechanisms of philanthropy, most notably foundations. Every year, the non-profit organisation Recherches & Solidarités[6] publishes an interesting report on individual giving, while a biennial survey on corporate giving is published by Admical[7], France’s leading professional association of corporate donors. A few generalist books written by consultants and practitioners (Debiesse, 2007; Seghers, 2009) round out the available data on philanthropy in France. Despite the quality of these contributions, we still lack a systematic, exhaustive survey of giving in France, as will be shown in the following pages.

Overview of Giving in France


Table 1. proposes a conservative estimation of giving in France, relying on the most rigorous data available. As detailed above, since sources diverge for giving by individuals, we decided to use the data provided by the French administration (DGFIP) for 2013, which is not only the lowest figure of all three sources[11], but also the only one that is actually measured and not extrapolated from a small sample. As for bequests, we have no other option but to use CerPhi’s broad estimation based on the financial statements of 30 organisations. Corporate giving data are provided by the 2014 Admical survey, which is also based on a survey and then extrapolated to all French businesses. For a prudent estimation, considering the discrepancy between the Admical surveys and the French administration data, we decided to count the amounts given by businesses over 20 employees only (€ 1.8 billion). As for foundations, Fondation de France’s data relies on a large-scale questionnaire answered by 85 per cent of all French foundations, which are reliable and representative. We decided to only count the amounts of grants distributed by foundations in 2013 (€ 1.54 billion), and not all their annual expenses (€ 7.4 billion). One difficulty is that some giving by corporations may be counted twice in table 1, since businesses can give directly or through a foundation. We also included the estimated giving by endowment funds, also provided by Fondation de France.

Table 1. Estimated sources of contributions in 2013 in millions

Sources of contribution million EUR percentage


  • In vivo (source: DGFIP, 2013)
  • Bequests (source : CerPhi)

2 850

2 250[12]


45 %

36 %

10 %

Corporations (source: Admical, 2014) 1 800[13] 29 %

Foundations (source: Fondation de France, 2015)

Endowment funds (source: idem)

1 540


24 %

2 %

Total  6 290 100%

While there is a surging interest in philanthropy among French scholars, robust and systematic data on giving are still missing. At least, there is some reliable data on all areas of giving in France, but the methodologies vary, and categories – especially beneficiary causes – are not consistent across the surveys. It is thus not possible to aggregate the data regarding the use of giving by different sources. Regarding the methods, we remark that most of the data are extrapolated from surveys on small to medium-sized samples. In an ideal world, public data on giving would be collected, aggregated and published in real time by the French administration, at least for those gifts for which a tax break is provided to individuals and corporations. Big data and open government initiatives are heading in this direction. An even better opportunity would be to collect and publish the unified data across European countries, which we hope ERNOP can contribute to in the coming years.


[1] ESSEC Business School

[2] Fondation de France






[11] The two other being Recherches & Solidarités, 2014, and the Center for Philanthropic Studies, 2009.

[12] Please note that in the summarising table on Giving in Europe, the CPS amount has been used (3.4 billion euro).

[13] Please note that in the summarising table on Giving in Europe, the amount provided includes business with less than 20 employees.


Gautier, A. & de Nervaux, L. (2017). Research on Giving in France. In: Hoolwerf, L.K. & Schuyt, Th.N.M. (eds) Giving in Europe. The state of research on giving in 20 European countries. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

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