15 December 2021

European Commission and the foundation sector explore new entry points for collaboration

Report of online workshop held 26 October 2021

Rationale for exploring collaborative efforts

We are collectively facing multiple and multidimensional crises. If one thing became clear in the last few years through the intersecting crises of rising inequality, increasing number of natural disasters, and the outbreak of a global pandemic, it is that no single sector can tackle these challenges alone. Collaboration within and between philanthropy, public and private sectors is ever more important and pressing.

Public-benefit foundations are increasingly looking into new ways to achieve their missions and maximize their impact. They are exploring new ways of operating their programmes and investments, which policymakers can enable through appropriate policies and collaborative initiatives supporting the European common good. When it comes to EU programmes, foundations are already engaging in co-granting, re-granting and implementation with EU institutions while also experimenting with deploying different impact investing tools linked to their mission areas. Another trend within the philanthropy sector is the increased attention on how to align foundations’ endowments and asset allocation with their public-benefit missions and/or to generally consider more sustainable asset allocation.

There is scope for public policy to enable these new ways of working even further, with the aim of addressing core social challenges at national and European levels. In this context, the philanthropic sector was invited to an online workshop held on 26 October 2021 and organised by the European Commission with the intention to explore the potential appetite of foundations to increase collaboration focused on dedicated joint mission areas, in particular under the InvestEU Programme.

InvestEU and its potential for collaboration between philanthropy and the European Commission

The InvestEU Programme is the single investment programme of the EU budget (2021-2027) using the EU guarantee to mobilise private capital and partnerships, and to support strategic investments in four policy areas: (i) Sustainable infrastructure; (ii) Research, innovation and digitisation; (iii) Small and medium-sized enterprises; and (iv) Social investment and skills.

InvestEU aims to implement the EU budget more efficiently, gathering under one roof all the investment rules and procedures at the EU level. Foundations could engage with the InvestEU Programme in different roles, including as co-investors, financial intermediaries, and recipients of the funding channelled through InvestEU.  

This builds on the track record of previous social investment instruments, and is already possible, on an ad hoc basis, under the multiple financial products being developed in frame of the InvestEU programme.  Moreover, the current ambition for the next generation of products would also be to include dedicated vehicles for engagement of philanthropic capital and resources (including knowledge and experience in social innovation) in a more systematic way for addressing specific societal challenges.

In order to inform and support different types of investors for impact (and foundations among them) accessing InvestEU and ESF+ funding programmes, EVPA recently published a visual guide.

Social innovation and inclusion: Exploring ways for the EU and philanthropy to co-invest

The 26 October workshop explored a potential EU co-investment facility with philanthropy for social innovation and inclusion. This facility is positioned under the new InvestEU Programme (2021-2027) and is set to combine EU and philanthropic capital.

The workshop was a first gathering under the InvestEU Programme in 2021, building on earlier discussions started in 2018. Participants included not only a wide range of Directorate-Generals of the European Commission (for instance DG ECFIN, DG EAC, DG CNECT, DG CLIMA, and DG EMPL), but also representatives from the European Investment Fund and the European Investment Bank, as well as a group of foundations and philanthropy support organisations across the Dafne, EFC and EVPA networks. Among these, several foundations that have been working closely on these topics since 2018, in a working group hosted by EFC and EVPA.

The event sought mainly to explore the feasibility and interest of foundations to engage around the mission areas considered for the facility: (i) Equality and inclusion (including integration and inclusion, education, and housing and homelessness); (ii) Media, culture and democracy; and (iii) Green transition and related societal transformation.

The workshop revealed both great interest of the different actors in continuing the discussions on the co-investment concept, as well as in developing additional solutions and building blocks for strengthening public-private collaboration and stimulating social investment ecosystems across Europe.

The discussions stressed the importance of following an ecosystem approach addressing core societal challenges for the EU, which neither the public sector, nor philanthropy or the private sector could tackle alone. The case was made for the need to advance catalytic solutions and partnerships.

Making the idea of collaboration concrete

During the event, foundations confirmed an increased interest in the sector in mission-related and, overall, more sustainable asset allocation and impact investing, which represents a move beyond the current practice of many foundations to look at asset allocation and operational activities as two separate areas of activity.

Indeed, more philanthropic organisations have started considering that their asset allocation should at least to some extent be linked to their mission and/or be supporting start-ups/social enterprises/businesses in the form of impact investing. Low interest rates have also contributed to foundations’ investment strategies aiming to create more impact with mission-related or social (impact) investments.

Mission-related investment refers to the dedication of the portfolio of assets and investments of a philanthropic actor to its public-benefit mission. Social (impact) investment refers to investments made by different types of investors (including foundations, VP funds, impact investors and institutional investors) into companies, organisations, and funds with the intention to generate primarily a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return to ensure financial sustainability. Up to now, foundations have mainly considered social impact investing on their programme side.

Given that some national laws require a preservation of the value of the endowment, and mission-related investments or investments in social enterprises do not always generate the required financial returns (or are considered too risky), barriers and legal uncertainty around this type of investment exist in some countries. In addition, such actions may not be in line with the mission/statutes/will of the founder, which may prescribe or suggest a particular level of risk appetite.

The event offered examples from EU Member State government support schemes, which enabled the development of the impact investing space via integrated policy frameworks, as for instance in Portugal, and risk-sharing facilities for impact funds, as in the Netherlands. During the event, several pathways for collaboration along those lines emerged for consideration at the European level.

First, EU tools to lower risks of foundations’ endowment investments in areas supporting strategic public policy areas, thereby reorienting their endowment resources towards sustainability goals, were discussed as worthwhile considering. In addition, new tools to do impact investing or pooling of funds as ways of addressing joint mission areas, were also considered as interesting avenues to explore further.

Avenues for collaboration and how to get there

Several avenues with regards to collaboration between philanthropy and EU institutions emerged during the workshop:

  • For mission-related investing (coming from the endowment side), the EU guarantee could be used to de-risk and support foundations in investing more of the endowment in more sustainable investment products.
  • For impact investing (mainly from the programmatic side), the EU capital could match/support “mission-critical” investments with the adequate pace and risk characteristics.
  • Associated and complementary pooled funding for system change, as (grant-based) vehicles which could be established to support ecosystem development and contribute to the solution of core mission areas in a systematic way.
  • A horizontal market building “Collaborative and capacity building platform” would be able to support market and ecosystem development in a coherent way.

Following from this initial conversation, the European Commission will follow up to deepen the discussion on mission areas and develop the collaboration options further in the months to come. The follow-up should therefore include more conversations around issue-based collaboration but also a technical seminar, to be organised between the Commission and the European Investment Fund in the beginning of 2022 to advance to the next stage of development of the planned co-investment facility. This technical seminar should involve, beyond senior level and programmatic level foundation staff, also foundations’ financial and investment experts.


Dafne and EFC, as a representative body of European philanthropy and in line with the Philanthropy Advocacy Manifesto, is in dialogue with the European Commission to explore new ways for the sector to collaborate with the EU institutions. Dafne and EFC are collaborating closely with EVPA, the European association representing Investing for Impact   on this matter. Next steps will include more follow up conversations on issue-based collaboration opportunities and concrete technical conversations around the design of financial products and related opportunities in the beginning of 2022. This technical discussion will focus on financial tools which can potentially enable foundations to carry out more mission-related investments and impact investing, as well as enable pooled system change funding. Simultaneously, the idea of an advisory collaborative platform will be further explored to support ecosystem development in this direction.


Philanthropy Advocacy

The Dafne and EFC joint advocacy project “Philanthropy Advocacy” acts as a monitoring, legal analysis and policy engagement hub for European philanthropy. Its main objective is to shape the national, European and international legislative environment by implementing the European advocacy roadmap for a Single Market for Public Good, to unleash private resources for European solidarity.


Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (Dafne)

Dafne brings together 30 national associations across Europe, representing over 10.000 public-benefit foundations, big and small, who want to make a difference to society. We lead, strengthen and build the field for the common good in Europe. We believe that an independent and courageous philanthropic sector can be a catalyst for a just and equitable society, where all can participate and prosper and have a voice, from the most marginalised to the most privileged. Philanthropy is vital for a resilient, inclusive and sustainable Europe.

Dafne is involved in four key areas: advocacy, peer exchange, communications and research that are needs-based and future-oriented. Our story began 15 years ago – out of the desire to connect and facilitate exchange in the growing field of European philanthropy. We developed from an informal peer exchange organisation to a leading voice of European philanthropy.

European Transparency Register: 075961340619-25

European Foundation Centre (EFC)

As a leading platform for philanthropy in Europe, the EFC works to strengthen the sector and make the case for institutional philanthropy as a formidable means of effecting change. We believe institutional philanthropy has a unique, crucial and timely role to play in meeting the critical challenges societies face. Working closely with our members, a dynamic network of strategically-minded philanthropic organisations from more than 30 countries, we:

  • Foster peer-learning by surfacing the expertise and experience within the sector
  • Enhance collaboration by connecting people for exchange and joint action
  • Advocate for favourable policy and regulatory environments for philanthropy
  • Build a solid evidence base through knowledge and intelligence
  • Raise the visibility of philanthropy’s value and impact

European Transparency Register: 78855711571-12

EVPA is a strong community of around 300 member organisations (e.g. foundations, impact investment funds, corporate social investors, financial institutions, incubators and accelerators) from 30+ countries sharing the same vision and a common goal: creating lasting societal impact through the practice of investing for impact. We are a unique network at the intersection of business and purpose, driven by knowledge and focused on impact. As a strategic partner of the European Commission in advancing this sector, we share insights, develop knowledge and training, and shape public policies to make the investing for impact movement in Europe stronger.

Please find more information on www.evpa.eu.com and for more info on EVPA policy work, please see: www.evpa.eu.com/policy