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European Research Network on Philanthropy
Institutional members
ESADE Business School


Lisa Hehenberger
ESADE Business School
ESADE Center for Social Impact
email: lisa.hehenberger@
The ESADE Center for Social Impact at ESADE Business School was established in 2021 and has its headquarters in Barcelona, Spain. Major academic disciplines are Social entrepreneurship, Organisation Theory, and Strategic Management. Research topics are Venture philanthropy, Social impact investment, Social entrepreneurship, Impact measurement and Management.  Research questions adressed by the Center are, among others:
  • How can foundations collaborate and learn to generate greater impact?
  • How can philanthropy unleash the potential of catalytic capital?
  • How can place-based organizations measure and manage systemic impact?
  • How to assess the value-add of non-financial support in venture philanthropy?
  • How can Gender-Lens Investing contribute to the growth and relevance of impact investing?
Introduction to research on Giving in Spain

Ana Felgueiras[1] and Marta Rey-García[2]

Research on philanthropic giving in Spain is relatively recent, scarce, mostly unsystematic and still facing conceptual ambiguities. The vast majority of the few existing studies from which we can retrieve data on philanthropic giving tends to focus on philanthropic foundations, and are conducted by a small number of researchers devoted to fields other than philanthropic studies. They tend to either contextualize partial aspects of philanthropy within broader research projects on the third sector or social economy sector, or to focus on certain types of philanthropic foundations (e.g. family foundations or those devoted to research and innovation).

It should be noted that the only longitudinal dataset on individual giving was created in 2014 and refers only to donations that are deducted in the form of individual income tax. Other sources on household, foundation or corporate giving in Spain are either non-existent or barely accessible to researchers. The data sources are generally highly fragmented. No research infrastructure or stable institution specialized in the phenomenon of philanthropy exist in Spain, although steps have been taken by organisations and individual academics to advance research in this field.

Research perspectives and limitations

First, existing research most often analyses certain types of philanthropic foundations within the broader context of third sector research on non-profit organisations’ (NPOs’) financial and human resources, with the final aim of estimating the sector’s contribution to GDP and employment. However, the fact that the National Statistics Agency (INE) has not implemented a satellite account for NPOs constitutes a serious barrier against the development of meaningful, comprehensive research under such a macro-economic perspective. Second, non-profit research has been frequently undertaken from a social economy approach covering a wide range of NPOs, going beyond the typical legal formulas of non-profit foundations and associations to include religious institutions, cooperatives, savings banks, labour societies etc. The third sector approach is represented by sociologists such as Professor Ruiz de Olabuénaga, following the academic work by Professors Salomon and Anheier in Spain, mainly as part of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (Ruiz Olabuénaga, 2006). The social economy approach is represented by the economic research developed by Professor García Delgado and by CIRIEC-Spain, mainly from the University of Valencia. Using this approach, only certain types of philanthropic foundations are analysed and giving by these institutions becomes mixed up with the undertakings of other non-profit organisations with radically different models of operations (Rey-Garcia & Alvarez-Gonzalez, 2011).

In regards to research that adopts a meso-approach and/or trying to collect data on individual and institutional donations to NPOs, most publications have focussed on either: 1) a specific set of NPOs oriented towards social action and services, the so-called Social Action Third Sector (SATS) –i.e. studies originating from the Luis Vives Foundation and its SATS Yearbook-; or 2) philanthropic foundations – in particular studies by INAEF, Instituto de Análisis Estratégico de Fundaciones [the Institute for the Strategic Analysis of Foundations], an applied research initiative launched in late 2009 by the Spanish Association of Foundations (AEF). In fact, foundations are the philanthropic players that have received the most research attention to date in Spain. However, it should be noted that the public benefit activity of foundations cannot be identified with foundation giving in the case of Spain. The word ‘foundation’ does not evoke the same philanthropic, grant-giving connotation as in the US or the UK; it rather refers only to a non-member type of non-profit organisation. Spanish organisations can use two alternative formulas to incorporate NPOs from a legal and tax perspective: associations or foundations, the latter having important administrative advantages. Consequently, in terms of the number of entities, foundations are estimated to account for approximately half of the tax-favoured NPOs existing in Spain; but only a minor portion of foundations is devoted to philanthropic giving to individuals or other NPOs, most foundations devoting their resources instead to operating their own programs.

In this scenario, where individual giving and corporate giving tend to remain under the research radar, the recent (February 2015) report commissioned by INAEF (elaborated by Rubio Guerrero, Sosvilla Rivero and Méndez Picazo (2015)), is very welcome. The report constitutes the first work in Spain that includes longitudinal, qualified data on donation amounts declared for deduction by individual taxpayers and private companies, and it characterizes the typical Spanish donor, its behaviour and evolution from 2002 to 2010. Qualified data are provided for the following two types of giving: 1) amounts donated and deducted in individual tax income forms (IRPF), the main characteristics of tax filers that deduct these donations (income, gender, age, marital status, nationality, number of descendants, the Autonomous Community and province the taxpayers live in, relationship with the house, and whether they perform an economic activity or not); and 2) the amounts deducted as donations to NPOs in corporate tax, typifying corporate donors by their income bracket and amount declared for deduction. The data come from AEAT, Agencia Estatal de Administración Tributaria [the State Agency of Tax Administration], IEF, Instituto de Estudios Fiscales [the Institute of Tax Studies from the Ministry in charge of Finances and Public Administrations] for 2002-2010, and the corporate tax forms ISOC, Impuesto Sobre Sociedades [Corporate Tax] made available by AEAT for 2004-2010. Although, as the authors remark, the report is based on tax data, it takes into consideration only those donations that are declared for tax purposes, not taking into account those that go undeclared, for example because the donors do not have tax-benefit motivations or they have not filed their income tax forms (e.g. it is only compulsory for an annual gross income above a legal threshold, currently established at € 22 000).

Main players and research projects

Three journals have devoted their attention to philanthropy in Spain on a regular basis: Revista Española del Tercer Sector, CIRIEC-España; Revista de Economía Pública, Social y Cooperativa and, to a lesser extent, Información Comercial Española, ICE: Revista de Economía. Among non-academic publications, the journal Documentación Social and the FOESSA reports, both research initiatives connected to the Spanish Cáritas (the Confederation of Catholic Church Charities for Social Assistance), have mainly focused on SATS-related issues; while the Spanish Association of Fundraising has regularly published reports on household giving to certain NPOs, or on the profiles of individual donors.

The top private funder of philanthropy-related research has traditionally been ONCE, Organization Nacional de Ciegos de España [the National Organization for the Blind] and its foundation. Other key private institutions publishing and/or funding this type of research have been Fundación de las Cajas de Ahorros (FUNCAS) [the Foundation of Savings Banks], Fundación BBVA and Fundación la Caixa. Both Fundación ONCE and Fundación la Caixa have funded research on foundations by INAEF since its inception, together with other prominent private foundations. Fundación ONCE has mainly funded research using the social economy approach. As examples we can refer to the series under the direction of Professor García Delgado (economics background) or the 2010 publication directed by Professor Monzón (economics background) on the macro-estimates of the Spanish social economy, with 2008 data.

Beyond INAEF, the main institutes and organisations producing non-academic reports on philanthropy-related issues have been Fundación Luis Vives and ESADE’s Instituto de Innovación Socia [the Institute of Social Innovation]. In addition to editing the aforementioned Revista Española del Tercer Sector, in 2010 and 2012 the Luis Vives Foundation produced a biannual report on the SATS that included data on social action NPOs’ financial resources. Following the ICNPO criteria (the Johns Hopkins project) a panel of 819 SATS organisations (2008 data published in 2010) and 716 SATS organisations (2010 data published in 2012) was created. The yearbook published in 2012 with the 2008 data indicates that SATS accounted for approximately 29 000 active NPOs, including associations, foundations and other NPOs – i.e. federations, confederations and the three special charter NPOs (the Spanish Red Cross (CRE), ONCE and Spanish Cáritas). SATS organisations work primarily in social action (38.6%), social integration (23.2%) and healthcare (22.1%). At a regional level both Observatorio del Tercer Sector [the Observatory of the Third Sector] and the Foundation Coordinator in Catalonia are worth being mentioned.

In addition to these players, a reduced number of international and national research projects developed during the last few years have contributed to the knowledge of philanthropy-related issues in Spain. This is the case for the research projects on philanthropy undertaken by Professor Marta Rey-García (the University of A Coruna), mostly in collaboration with Professor Luis Ignacio Álvarez-González (the University of Oviedo), their scientific background being management and marketing. They have collected data on philanthropy in Spain since 2009, and have conducted quantitative and qualitative research focussing on foundations, corporate philanthropy and fundraising through national campaigns for charitable causes and charitable lotteries. The results from a series of international and national research projects developed during the last few years with their participation have been disseminated through several collective publications concerned with the following themes:

The foundation sector. The previously mentioned INAEF project ( was launched in 2009 with the mission of filling the historical research gap in philanthropic foundations in Spain. Under that umbrella and between 2009 and 2011, Professors Rey-García (PI) and Álvarez developed and completed what constitutes the first comprehensive study of the Spanish foundation sector. This research project estimated the real size of the sector as consisting of 9 050 active foundations by 31/12/2009, with a total of 12 921 registered and not formally disbanded (consistent with previous estimations of 30% of registered foundations being inactive in Spain); and characterized by their organisational features and the socioeconomic impact of those that are active (Rey-García & Álvarez-González, 2011). INAEF published two later studies using different methodological approaches. The second study (elaborated by Galindo Martín, Rubio Guerrero & Sosvilla Rivero, 2012) considered active foundations to be those which are registered and not formally disbanded according to the information from 16 protectorates; with an estimation of 13 334 active foundations in 2008 and 13 731 foundations in 2009. A subsequent study (Rubio Guerrero, Sosvilla Rivero, & Méndez Picazo, 2014) included an additional category of ‘effective active foundations’ (similar to those denominated ‘active foundations’ in the first study) and presented revised figures for 2008 and 2009, and provisional estimates for 2010, 2011 and 2012. The latest report (Rubio Guerrero, Sosvilla Rivero & Méndez Picazo, 2015) represents an expansion of the research interests of INAEF by analyzing individual and corporate giving through tax sources.

Professionalization, partnerships with firms and social innovation involving foundations. These three issues have been addressed in a recent research project funded by the government of Spain, entitled ‘Foundations as a key factor of Spanish firms’ corporate social responsibility strategy. Bi-directional analysis of the foundation-firm relationship following a marketing approach’, PI being Professor Sanzo (the University of Oviedo, management and marketing background). The results from the effects of foundation-business partnerships have been already published in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (2015) and Service Business (2015); while the impact of the dynamic capabilities of the capacity of foundations to develop social innovations was analysed also in the context of the ITSSOIN project – funded by the EC – in an article published in The Service Industries Journal (2015). Regarding the effects of the professionalization of the foundation sector and the growing interaction between philanthropic foundations and businesses, a very recent study supported by the International Research in Philanthropy Awards (IRPAs) (Sanzo Pérez, M.J., Rey-García, M., & Álvarez González, L.I., 2016) has analysed the influence of foundations’ professionalization and engagement in partnerships with firms on foundations’ productivity. The results confirm the existence of a ‘U-shaped’ relationship between professionalization and foundations’ capability to reach more beneficiaries with lower assets; a positive effect of professionalization on revenue generation capability; and a positive effect of partnerships with businesses on foundations’ asset-per-beneficiary ratio.

Research and innovation foundations. The EUFORI project (European Foundations for Research and Innovation, 2012-2014,, funded by the EC, includes a Spanish report with results from a quantitative and qualitative assessment, comparative analysis, and the trends and potential of foundations supporting research and innovation (R&I). Professor Rey-García has been the PI for Spain and the country report, co-authored by Professor Álvarez, and recently released (Rey-García, Marta; Álvarez González, Luis Ignacio, 2015) characterizes Spanish R&I foundations and measures their main economic parameters for the first time. A database of 458 R&I foundations was produced from multiple sources (229 answered a structured online questionnaire). Spanish R&I foundations participating in the study hold over € 4 690 000 in assets, a total of over € 980 million in income, and have spent over € 773 million on R&I (2012 data). The report further identifies their main strengths and opportunities, and includes conclusions and recommendations relevant for the competitive improvement of R&I foundations.

Corporate and family foundations. Two recent research projects funded by the Spanish government that have dealt with these types of foundations should be mentioned; first, the previously mentioned ‘Foundations as a key factor of Spanish firms’ corporate social responsibility strategy’. Second, a project focussing on family foundations and philanthropic entrepreneurial families called BOLDE ‘Business organisation in late development economies: a dynamic, comparative study of the Urquijo Group’, whose PI was Professor Puig (University Complutense de Madrid, management and history background). One of the results of this project was an article comparing the philanthropic propensities of entrepreneurial families in the US, Germany and Spain (Rey-Garcia and Puig-Raposo, 2013). Beyond these projects, the issue of accountability and transparency of corporate foundations has received special attention (Rey-García, Martín-Cavanna and Álvarez-González, 2012). Likewise, a working paper issued by Cátedra Fundación Ramón Areces de Distribución Comercial [Chair on Retail Management of the Ramón Areces Foundation] (Rey-García and Marta, 2012) studied institutional philanthropy by retail firms, utilizing foundations connected to the top 50 global retailers in a multiple case study. This study showed that on one hand, top global retailers have a high philanthropic propensity (64% have a connected instrumental foundation), and on the other hand that the potential benefits of connected instrumental foundations go beyond those attributed to conventional CSR and traditional corporate giving according to the previous literature, to include an improved competitive advantage and control of intangible and financial assets.

Civic participation and philanthropy. A monograph in the journal Información Comercial Española (ICE) with a comprehensive analysis of philanthropy in Spain, including a conceptual framework for philanthropy and civic participation, challenges the trends of the non-profit sector, and a contribution to establishing the size and impact of the third sector in Spain has been recently published (Montes Gan and Rey-García eds., 2013), following on from a previous monograph coordinated by the renowned sociology professor Pérez Díaz (2008).

Fundraising campaigns for charitable causes. An academic journal article with a historical overview and an estimate of the funds raised through national campaigns for charitable causes between 2002 and 2009, including giving through the tax designation scheme and charity lotteries, has been recently published (Rey-García, Álvarez-González and Valls-Riera, 2013).


In spite of a long and generous tradition of philanthropy in Spain that is mostly connected to the Christian roots in the country, but not solely, quantitative research on the subject is at an incipient stage. The terms under the umbrella of private giving are inconsistently conceptualized across the studies, and the datasets are segmented, geographically disperse, not regularly updated and often inaccessible for research purposes. Although we have a snapshot of the significance of the private funding of the non-profit sector and some of its segments (in particular foundation-type NPOs and SATS), the actual amounts given are not available; it is often hard to disaggregate the data according to the type of donor and virtually impossible to identify the actual redistribution or usage of the amounts donated across the different goals or fields of activity of the NPOs.

The primary data sources are generally highly inconsistent in terms of concepts and variables, and are seldom accessible for research purposes. For the most part they are widely dispersed from a geographical point of view, and scattered across partial and non-systematically updated public and private databases providing aggregated amounts only. The only exception to this overall scenario is the micro-data of the national tax agency (AEAT) on individual and corporate tax filers that deduct donations to public-benefit NPOs. On the basis of these data, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IEF) built in 2014 a statistically representative panel of individual tax filers covering the fiscal years 2002 to 2010. This panel opens up the possibility for more systematic, comprehensive research on individual giving, although it is limited to that falling under tax control. However, it should be noted that this data source on individual and corporate giving only refers to donations that are subject to deduction from those who are not exempt from filing their tax forms, and who decide to deduct their donations only when filing them. Bequests and undeclared in vivo donations are left out, and we should not forget that these may represent a significant part of giving.

The first exploitation of these data from tax sources was made in the recently released report produced for INAEF, but generally the secondary data sources are seldom updated on an annual basis. Besides, there is no report, institute or research project systematically covering giving as a whole on a national scale. Among the most recent national-scale reports on the partial aspects of philanthropy two should be highlighted as exceptions to this lack of continuity. The first is the yearbook of the subsector of social action NPOs published by the Luis Vives Foundation in 2010 and 2012; the second is the INAEF project of the Spanish Association of Foundations, focusing on philanthropic foundations in general rather than on giving to/from foundations. Both have been conducting quantitative research on philanthropy most often from the perspective of and using data from beneficiary entities rather than from donors. The most recent IAEF report, however, may represent a turning point in this trend. Should it be continued it can provide qualified data and longitudinal comparisons, although limited to individual and corporate giving that falls under tax control.

Although we can have partial overviews of the importance of giving by individuals, private firms and foundations to certain NPOs (namely SATS and foundations), it is not possible to provide qualified data on the amounts donated in Spain, either in total (beyond those deducted by individual and corporate tax payers), and even less to different philanthropic goals.

From the study on national campaigns for charitable causes, we know that Spain was among the top donors to the SE Asia tsunami in 2010, indicating a willingness to give to international emergencies. The longitudinal data allow us to know that individuals/households also regularly donate to the Catholic Church and/or ‘other social benefit purposes’ through the tax designation scheme. From the Luis Vives reports we know that individual, corporate and foundation giving constitute important funding streams of social action NPOs. From the first INAEF study we know that the majority of philanthropic foundations operate in the fields of education and research, culture and recreation, and social services. Existing research provides quantitative longitudinal data on how much Spaniards have spent on each of the existing charity lotteries; however, there are no data on which philanthropic areas receive how much money. From the latest report produced for INAEF we can get the most comprehensive profile of the Spanish donor: a 55 – 59 male of Spanish nationality, married but with no children, who is a home-owner, who lives in the Madrid area, and who has an economic occupation and an annual income of € 30 000 to 60 000. Yet, and once again, it is not possible to know to which philanthropic areas individual and corporate taxpayers donate.

It is worth mentioning that in the present overview of the state of giving research in Spain we have focused only on empirical research including quantitative financial data on giving. However, there are additional studies of a more conceptual or theoretical, qualitative, legal-fiscal, institutional or historical nature that should not be forgotten and that are relevant in order to gain a full picture of Spanish philanthropy, particularly empirical research in connection with entrepreneurial families, family firms and foundations connected to them (see, for example, Rey-García and Puig-Raposo, 2010 and 2013).

All these recent research efforts suggest philanthropy is emerging as research-worthy subject in Spain. The 2014 panel of individual tax filers of the Institute of Tax Studies from the Ministry in charge of Finances and Public Administration opens the door to more systematic research on individual giving, contributing to overcoming the traditional generalized lack of accessible, updated, nationwide, quantitative data on the sources of philanthropic giving. However, two main challenges for further advancing research on giving remain. The first is an overwhelming lack of data on the public benefit application of those resources by NPOs. The second is the lack of conceptual and methodological consistency, resulting in the weak comparability of data from secondary sources. The combination of no systematic data gathering on the different types of donors (most notably foundations or individuals and corporations beyond those deducting donations on tax forms) along with the heterogeneity and fragmentation of conceptual and methodological developments make it difficult to generate a full picture of giving at this stage.


[1] PhD Student, member of Jean Monnet Research Group on Competition and Development (C+D), School of Economics and Business of the University of A Coruña (UDC), Spain

[2] Associate Professor, School of Economics and Business of the University of A Coruña (UDC), Spain,


Felgueiras, A. & Rey-García, M. (2017) Research on Giving in Spain. 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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