12 January 2023

System-shifting in the practice of national associations of donors and foundations

Philea held the annual Winter Meeting for Philanthropy Infrastructure Members on 7 December in Philanthropy House, Brussels. This year’s Winter Meeting built on the complementarity of philanthropy infrastructure organisations at national and European levels, and unpacked how national associations of donors and foundations could be levers and drivers of change. The programme encompassed concrete areas where national associations contribute to shifting systems by building bridges and encouraging bolder philanthropic practices.

Leveraging the work of infrastructure organisations towards regenerative futures

Kicking off the event, Caroline Paulick-Thiel, Director, Politics for Tomorrow, and a strategic designer and expert in responsible innovation, shared with the participants how they can leverage their resources and networks to enable agile transformation in their contexts. Transformation can only be achieved with a multi-actor approach, and infrastructure organisations have the power to activate the field. They are in a unique, intersectional position where they can not only provide a new organisational mode for themselves, but also a framework for others.

Caroline suggested looking at our work as a spectrum between the visible and the invisible, whereby infrastructure organisations connect the built environment and framed practices with the underlying social structures (laws, regulations, institutions) and the so-called supra-structuring (mental models). In doing so we can look at existing funding practices differently, and approach regeneration in the future by a different type of portfolio design. More about the approach presented by Caroline can be found here.

Philea and national associations: Harnessing the multidimensional potential of European philanthropy together

We also explored how strategic advocacy collaboration between the national, European and international levels is essential to achieving an enabling operating space for philanthropy. We heard case studies on diverse advocacy efforts at the national level from Austrian, Belgian, Spanish and Turkish national associations of donors and foundations. The case studies included mitigating the unintended consequences of the Financial Action Task Force’s financing of terrorism and proliferation (AML/CFT) standards on the non-profit sector and activating the field in improving the enabling environment for the sector.

System-shifting in practice: Bringing the voices of youth and children into philanthropy

Transformational philanthropy requires inclusive and participatory funding practices. How do we create the conditions for the meaningful participation of children and youth in philanthropy, and how could national associations play a role in promoting this lens across their membership? Based on the learnings of the recent Philea report “Children and Youth Participation in Philanthropy”, the participants discussed the advantages of and obstacles to including children and young people in philanthropic decision-making, and how national associations could stimulate this culture in their national contexts.

The participants heard from Richard Dzikunu, Action Learning Group Lead, YIELD Hub, who referred to his own experience engaging with foundations and shared why and how philanthropy should work with young people. We also heard from the Italian Association of Foundations Assifero who presented the initial learnings of their emergent campaign “Future Chair”, which is aimed at encouraging Italian foundations to step up and include young people in their work.

System-shifting in practice: The role of national associations in mobilising foundations around climate

During the last three years, the International Commitment along with other national commitments were launched, bringing together almost 600 foundation signatories of the climate commitments, with more than 90% having signed a national commitment. The session allowed the infrastructure organisations to reflect on the current state of play in their climate journeys and discuss how to build the necessary momentum in the foundation sector in their countries. The participants learned from the emerging climate initiatives spearheaded by TUSEV (Third Sector Foundation in Turkey) and the Association of Charitable Foundations in Liechtenstein.

Data workshop: How to make a stronger case for philanthropy by aligning on a shared approach on data collection and presentation?

The Winter Meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on the existing approaches of philanthropy infrastructure organisations in collecting and presenting philanthropy data, and to scope out the ways forward on aligning on the European level. The data workshop encompassed three collaboration ideas, followed by an assessment of each in small group discussions. One of the approaches was presented by the French Foundation Centre which has recently launched the repository of foundations in France. The database includes publicly available information about foundations’ assets, expenditures, and areas of activity which are complemented by additional information submitted by foundations themselves.

The future is local: What can place-based funders offer to the wider foundation field and vice versa… and how?

The 2022 Winter Meeting was special for a number of reasons, not least because it brought together – for the very first time – the national associations of donors and foundations community together with more than 20 representatives from Community Foundations Support Organisations (CFSOs). Held in partnership with the European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI), it was a meaningful moment to connect with peers who strengthen the community philanthropy field in their national contexts and identify the existing and potential synergies between place-based funders, including community foundations, and other foundations.

Bringing together the European, national and local dimensions, participants worked in groups to explore the added value of “connecting with the local”, and the prerequisites needed to build relationships and to work together nationally and internationally.


Alina Shenfeldt
Programme Manager – Membership and Foresight