Europe home to over 180,000 public benefit foundations worth €647.5 billion 


Shafi Musaddique


Europe is home to 186,079 public benefit foundations across 24 countries, with a collective worth of €647.5 billion, according to new research compiled by Philanthropy Europe Association (Philea).  

Poland has the highest number (31,000) with Germany hosting the second highest total of foundations (25,254). Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK have at least 10,000 registered public-benefit foundations. 

Combined, the 21 countries have total assets of €647.5 billion. Broken down by country, Switzerland comes out on top with €140 billion, closely followed by the UK (€1111 billion) and the Netherlands (€180 billion). Serbia recorded the smallest net assets, at €160,000.  

In total, Europe’s public foundations annual spend is €54.5 billion. 

France has the highest level of total charitable expenditure (€13 billion) and accounts for 24 per cent of all charitable expenditure by public-benefit foundations. 

The report does not include the total number of all types of foundations in Europe, impacting on the published numbers given, particularly for France. Despite it having over 5,300 foundations and endowment funds, the number public utility foundations in France are registered as almost 600. 

Philea defines public-benefit foundations as those that are independent, with no members or shareholders, a separately established and reliable source of income, (usually but not exclusively from an endowment), with their own governing board. Crucially, they must distribute their financial resources for educational, cultural, religious, social or other public-benefit purposes. 

However, there is no standard definition of public benefit foundations in Europe.

“Each country has a different legal and regulatory framework. Sometimes it feels like we’re comparing apples to oranges, but this is our best estimate. A major issue is the lack of transparency in sharing foundation data: If foundations do not share their data, we cannot provide an accurate picture. As often said in the sector, everyone wants data, but only a few are willing to provide it,” Sevda Kilicalp, Philea’s head of research and knowledge development, told Alliance.

“Our aim is to understand the size, scale, and growth of the sector so that even if we don’t have the complete picture, we at least begin to understand the size of the canvas,” Kilicalp adds.

Philea plans to expand this snapshot to cover every corner of Europe, based on the Council of Europe’s definition. 

It also gathering insights about the unique roles of foundations in selected areas, which Kilicalp says is “more significant than just the amount they spend”.

Shafi Musaddique is news editor at Alliance magazine.

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