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European Research Network on Philanthropy

Institutional members

University of Baselceps
Center for Philanthropy Studies


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


The Center for Philanthropy Studies at the University of Basel was established in 2008 and has its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Major academic disciplines are business administration, economics, law, sociology, psychology, and regional studies. Key research topics are NPO-management, cross-sector collaboration, individual philanthropy, NPO law & economics, and data on philanthropy. Research questions addressed by the Center are, among others:

  • How can NPOs and foundations/philanthropists improve their effectiveness and efficiency?
  • How can NPOs and foundations be better managed?
  • How does philanthropy benefit the society?
  • How does the nonprofit of the future look like?
  • How do philanthropic organizations function in various jurisdictions?
  • What are the factors influencing philanthropy of individuals and what changes their strength? 


University of Genevaceps
Geneva Centre for Philanthropy


Mara de Monte
Geneva Centre for Philanthropy
University of Geneva
email: mara.demonte@

Henry Peter 
Geneva Centre for Philanthropy
University of Geneva
email: henry.peter@

The Geneva Centre for Philanthropy was established in 2017 and has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Major academic disciplines are law, economics, management, affective sciences, business ethics, and psychology. Key research topics are taxation and philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, hybrid entities, artificial intelligence, diversity and governance of foundation boards, and democracy. Research questions addressed by the Centre are, among others:

  • Why and how to design-tax incentives for the common good?

  • Why Social entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsability (CSR) could be the key drivers to achieve the Agenda 2030?

  • Why do people give?

  • How can foundations governance be more efficient?

  • What are the use and impact of AI on philanthropy and what can philanthropy do to promote ethical and inclusive AI?


IMD Business School
cepsDebiopharm Chair for Family Philanthropy


Peter Vogel
Debiopharm Chair for Family Philanthropy
IMD Business School
email: peter.vogel@

The Debiopharm Chair for Family Philanthropy at IMD Business School was established in 2017 and has its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Major academic disciplines are philanthropy, family business, entrepreneurship, management, and governance. Key research topics are family philanthropy, family business, family foundation, family mission, and family governance. Research questions addressed by the Chair are, among others:

  • What drives enterprising families to give?
  • How do enterprising families organize their giving?
  • How can enterprising families give more effectively or become more efficient at their giving?
  • How can family philanthropists leverage the existing governance mechanisms to better support their giving?
  • How does philanthropy affect the family business, the enterprising family itself and vice-versa?


Introduction to research on giving in Switzerland

Georg von Schnurbein, Steffen Bethmann, Theresa Gehringer, Milena Jankovic and Simone Leibundgut[1]

Except for legal issues, research on philanthropy does not have a long tradition in Switzerland. It is only lately that the topic has received more attention. The only Swiss university with a specialized institute investigating philanthropy is the University of Basel, although research on related fields such as non-profit management or fundraising has been conducted at the universities of applied sciences and the University of Fribourg for longer. One common problem is data availability. While there are good datasets on volunteering and monetary donations by individuals, there are no comprehensive or detailed datasets about organisational giving. This is due to the fact that neither foundations nor charities are obliged to publish their financial data. Data about corporate donations are also only partially available. In order to improve this situation a parliamentary interest group on philanthropy has been formed that is attempting to address these issues in politics. Among other things, they are demanding that the tax authorities in cooperation with the Swiss Federal Statistical Office gather data on individual and corporate donations, as well as foundation spending, and create anonymized datasets for research purposes. The main research centres are the following:

The Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS) is the leading research institution on philanthropy in Switzerland. It was established in 2008 through an initiative of SwissFoundations, the umbrella organisation of grantmaking foundations. The CEPS is involved in various research projects in topics ranging from mission investing and performance measurement to social innovation or the management of non-profit organisations. One core area of research is grantmaking foundations. Together with SwissFoundations and the Center for Foundations Law of the University Zurich the CEPS publishes the Swiss Foundation Report every year, which includes statistical data on the foundation sector.

The Verbandsmanagement Institute (VMI) at the University of Fribourg is the oldest research centre in the field of non-profit management in Switzerland. Its research focuses on membership organisations, non-profit management and fundraising, among others. They also use the data of certified funds receiving social aid and relief organisations to analyse the sources of income and spending.

The Center for Foundation Law at the University Zürich does research into the legal environment of foundations. It is attempting to achieve full documentation of the relevant domestic and foreign case law and the literature related to foundation law.

The Institute of Political Science of the University of Bern is responsible for conducting the research of the Freiwilligenmonitor (Volunteering Monitor). This study is repeated every 3 to 5 years and focuses primarily on voluntary work within the Swiss population. Additional questions about the donation behaviour of individuals are included in the questionnaire.

The Center for Leadership and Values in Society (CLVS-HSG) at the University St. Gallen is primarily concerned with answering questions about the public value of corporations and organisations, or their contribution to the common good.

The Institute for Market and Social Research gfs-Zürich is a private company that was commissioned to research donation behaviour in the Swiss population by a group of NPOs from 1997-2014.

Overview of Giving in Switzerland


Even though the data are incomplete, it has become evident that philanthropic giving plays an important role in Switzerland. International aid and environmental organisations in particular depend on donations on a large scale. The social sector receives heavy state subsidies and earns income by providing services. However, especially through donations NPOs are able to innovate and further develop services. Government contracts are normally strict in terms of cost control and only pay for pre-defined services.

In Switzerland many welfare services were first developed and financed by civil society. Pension insurance and subsidies for people in need were founded privately before becoming institutionalized. Even though spending on social services is increasing, a strong sense of civic responsibility persists due to an enduring liberal tradition. The federalist structure of the country and the direct democratic system offer many opportunities for private participation and stimulate widespread engagement for public welfare. An estimated total of 90 000 non-profits for a population of eight million inhabitants prove the thriving significance of the philanthropic sector. The sector’s collaboration with the state is based on the principle of subsidiarity. However, the non-profits preserve a high degree of independence in both agenda setting and financial earnings.

The available data are most extensive in relation to individual giving. Following a statistical analysis, the results show that people most likely to give are protestants, women, people with higher education levels and home owners. That is not to say that others give far less or not at all. Interestingly, people following a religion other than Protestant or Roman Catholic tend to give more on average in Switzerland.

The large amounts of individual and organisational giving can be seen partly in the great amounts of disposable wealth within the Swiss population. To hear examples of large donations of over CHF 20 000 000 to zoos or museums is not unusual. Some of these are made anonymously as Swiss tradition normally does not allow boasting about charitable giving. At the same time there are ongoing efforts to establish a Swiss Giving Pledge and to bring the philanthropic engagement of wealthy Swiss people more into the public eye. Philanthropy by individuals, companies and grantmaking foundations is stimulated by the population’s disposable wealth, the nation’s liberal legal framework, which is simple to use in practice, and the international perspective. Switzerland combines a high standard of financial services and legal stability with access to international organisations and networks. This combination makes the nation attractive for both (ultra) high net worth individuals and international non-profits.

Research into giving by foundations and corporations is in its developmental stages. However, a lot of information is still needed that is missing due to difficulty in data accessibility. It would be huge step forward if the tax authorities were to create anonymized datasets for research purposes. This would allow a much more in-depth view of the numerous private contributions to the public good in Switzerland.

The following table includes all the available data. However, the numbers are based on estimations and do not all come from the same year. This descriptive statistics must be treated with caution, even though they give an overview based on the best data available. As these numbers are taken from different sources, double counts (e.g. corporate foundations as corporate donations and foundation giving) cannot be ruled out entirely. Another important thought to bear in mind is the exchange rate between the euro and the Swiss Franc. As the table is based on rough estimations we decided to use parity. The real exchange rate from April-May 2015 averaged around € 1.00 = CHF 1.04. From September 2013 to January 2015, the Swiss Franc was pegged to the euro with an exchange rate of € 1.00 = CHF 1.20. This currency fluctuation affects the comparability of the numbers in euros across Europe.

Table 1 Sources of contributions, in millions

Sources of contribution million EUR percentage


In vivo (2013/2014)

Bequests (2007)

1 381


33 %

16 %

Corporations (2013)   893 21 %
Charity lotteries
Foundations (2010)  1 278 30 %
Total   4 212 100 %

Due to a lack of specific data we have not divided the total sum of donations into different uses of contributions. Further research will hopefully allow a more specific point of view on the usage of private funds for the public good.


[1] Center for Philanthropy Studies, University Basel


Von Schnurbein, G., Bethmann, S., Gehringer, T., Jankovic, M. & Leibundgut, S. (2017) Research on Giving in Switzerland. 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.

A comprehensive profile and description of all data sources is available through the member portal.