2 December 2021

Understanding inclusiveness, the impact dilemma, and the research agenda

The second philanthropy research webinar entitled “Aspects of philanthropy ‒ Inclusiveness, the impact dilemma, and the research agenda” took place online on the 10 November 2021. It was co-organised by Compagnia di San Paolo, in collaboration with Dafne, the EFC and ERNOP.

The webinar, the second in a series of two, was held in preparation for the International Conference on the Research on Philanthropy organised by Compagnia di San Paolo in collaboration with Dafne, ERNOP, and the EFC in Turin on 3-4 March 2022. This larger initiative aims to explore the common opportunities and challenges for foundations and the European research community and to identify possibilities for closer dialogue. The two webinars have set the scene for the Conference, providing four of the Conference’s main speakers with the opportunity to share their approaches and gather reflections from a selected group of researchers and foundation practitioners.

Delphine Moralis, Chief Executive Officer, EFC, opened the session by welcoming both the speakers and participants to the webinar. She reiterated the overarching aim of the conference as well as of the webinars: to explore the opportunities and challenges for European foundations and researchers to work together to align learnings. She reinforced the need for philanthropy to be at its best, especially when we are collectively facing numerous challenges in society.

Volker Then, Executive Director, Center for Social Investment, presented on the fourth wave of data as part of a feedback study called “Learning from partners – Involving beneficiaries in the strategy-making of foundations.” He explained that the analysis generates two types of fundamental products: on the one hand a report on every single foundation that is involved in each study; and secondly, an overall analysis of all the foundations of one year weighted in a cross sectional way. A large number of participants have participated in the study of the years, with 8500 having responded and provided data sets. A total of six foundations were partners during the fourth wave of the research which took place between 2020 and 2021. Volker proceeded to share some results of questions, which portray the perception that the participants have of the foundations in question. He concluded his intervention by detailing some key conclusions that can be made from the results. This includes: that foundations continue to be perceived as reliable, well-reputed and demanding organisations, however less as flexible and innovative; and that compared to 2015 foundations today are seen as even more reputable, substantially more innovative and somewhat more strategic.

Gian Paolo Barbetta, Professor, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, gave a presentation on philanthropy and impact evaluation. When defining both “philanthropy” and “impact”, he stated that there is no uncertainty when defining the former. However, in order to define “impact” for this study, it was described as the causal link between an action undertaken by a foundation in this specific case, and a modification that happens in the real world; a counterfactual paradigm was adopted. Whilst noting that there is no data on foundations estimating their impact, he went on to explain that foundations can each play a different role in society. Therefore, foundations that are innovative in their work should estimate the impact of their work. This is due to the risk factor that is involved. Gian Paola recognised the difficult in measuring impact and highlighted the recent academic recognition that has been awarded to the study of impact measurement.

Rene Bekkers, Co-Founder and Research Chair, European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP), delivered a speech on “15 years of European research on philanthropy at a glance – Past, present and towards an agenda for the future.” He based his intervention on a survey among 10 institutional members of the ERNOP. He began by presenting the history and structure of ERNOP, which has research centres scattered across Europe. Apart from philanthropy, Rene explained that each centre has an additional research focus, such as business administration, economics, sociology or law. In terms of some research areas that should have a focus in the future, grant making and decisions came up as a topic in the survey; ERNOP members feel like it deserves more of a scientific focus. Secondly, the autonomous role that foundations play in a democracy was mentioned by members, though this interest derives from a US-centric perspective on philanthropy. To carry out this research, the centres emphasised the need for more data, with consisted data infrastructure and more collaboration in data collection. More funding was also highlighted as a need. Rene concluded his contribution with a presentation of a categorization of research on philanthropy as a phenomenon, as a consequence, and as a cause of change among individuals, organizations, and countries.

Hanna Surmatz, Enabling Environment Manager, European Foundation Centre, gave an overview of a recent study on the operating environment for foundations in Europe. She explained that the study contains country profiles covering the foundation laws in around 40 countries, both in Europe and beyond. Mapping foundation law in Europe is a complex exercise, as there are different legal traditions, cultures, and definitions across the continent. Hanna explained that the purpose of the study was to encourage further research in the field as well as to offer a comparison, with an overall aim to promote an enabling environment for philanthropy/foundations. On explaining the results, she explained that barriers remain for cross-border philanthropy, among other findings. Overall, the single market is not yet a reality for European philanthropy.

Sevda Kilicalp, Policy and Incubation Manager, European Foundation Centre, moderated the Q&A session which opened up the floor to participants. Alberto Francesco Anfossi, Secretary General, Compagnia di San Paolo, closed the session by thanking all speakers and participants. He took stock of the two virtual research webinars which set the scene for International Conference on the Research on Philanthropy, which will take place in Turin on 3-4 March 2022.

For more information contact Sevda Kilicalp.