26 June 2019

Why Philanthropy Opinion Matters

Philanthropy is still relatively unknown to EU institutions and needs to find its right place on the European agenda.

In its first opinion entirely dedicated to philanthropy, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called on EU Member States to establish an enabling environment for philanthropy in line with EU freedoms and fundamental rights. The Opinion entitled “European philanthropy: An untapped potential”, recognises the added value that philanthropy can bring and its innovative and complementary role in our societies. It was requested by the Romanian Presidency, and I had the honour and pleasure to support the rapporteur, Mister Petru Sorin Dandea, as expert on behalf of the EFC and DAFNE.

The final Opinion is a well-balanced text on the importance of philanthropy for the common good and for social cohesion, with very clear recommendations. It addresses most of the key opportunities, concerns and ways forward for philanthropy and marks an important milestone in the path towards the sector’s goal of achieving a Single Market for Philanthropy. We are grateful for and would like to thank the EESC, the rapporteur and the members of the working group for their interest in and important contribution to philanthropy in Europe, with this Opinion.

Being highly involved during the process we have learned a lot which will help us in our future exchanges with European policy makers.

First, philanthropy is still quite absent in our EU institutions. It is still relatively unknown and not yet at its right place on the European agenda. During the voting plenary, Members of the EESC expressed their satisfaction that, “finally”, philanthropy had its own Opinion. The sector will have to continue the technical discussions with EU and national bodies on sometimes specific matters. As we continue to do so we should not forget to highlight the more global picture of the contribution of philanthropy to our societies.

Storytelling and using the right arguments will be key here. During the well-attended public hearing for this opinion, two very relevant philanthropic stories (Kickcancer and Fedora) were presented to demonstrate the real and complementary value of philanthropy, something which we should do more when engaging with policymakers. And we do not lack interesting and beautiful stories. So let’s use them wisely to promote philanthropy.

Philanthropy touches the life of millions and millions of citizens who are engaging all over Europe in philanthropy by giving donations, time, competences or goods. This argument is probably taken for granted by the sector but should be repeated and deepened towards the general public and policy makers. Philanthropy goes from local to global. During the discussions related to the opinion many local philanthropy cases were illustrated, again, all over Europe: in regions, villages, in the neighbourhoods through traditional or more innovative ways of philanthropic engagement.

Together with the right argument that philanthropy goes from local to global. Many of the highlighted examples during the discussions were very local ones, again, all over Europe. In the regions, in the villages, in the neighbourhoods. Through traditional or more innovative ways of philanthropic acting.
By using a broad description in the Opinion of what philanthropy represents instead of trying to reach a common definition has allowed us to include all these stories and the diverse nature of forms of philanthropic engagement. This has facilitated discussions and common understanding.

Philanthropy is accessible for many and is not only for richer people amongst us. Every contribution counts and should be enabled. This obvious argument was very important to many of the EESC members.
Recalling the humble complementary role of philanthropy to public action will be key in the coming years. Philanthropy can help Member States/public actors but will or should never replace the role of State. On the contrary, it is through enhanced dialogue, collaborations and exchanges that relevant synergies will be created to tackle societal issues. In this context, the transparency efforts from the sector and the exchanges with public authorities on the security agenda were appreciated.

Finally, having a series of well accepted key European philanthropy indicators and relevant data is undoubtedly something that is still missing. The sector should develop and improve existing studies and be able to follow trends and evolutions of philanthropy by gathering data from all over Europe into an annual European philanthropy barometer. Fortunately, steps into this directions are about to be taken by the sector.


Now that the Opinion is released, the sector has to build on it and continue to engage with the EESC, with other EU institutions and with national policy makers, on turning the recommendations of the Opinion into action. Philanthropy deserves it.

Author: Ludwig Forrest, Philanthropy Advisor, King Baudouin Foundation, Belgium