Reaching out to philanthropy muggles, aka an evolving community of scholars in a very biased snapshot


Elisa Ricciuti


The philanthropic ecosystem is certainly evolving fast and this was very evident at the ERNOP Conference in Basel last week, where over 150 people gathered for the usual bi-annual appointment to share the findings of their research studies and feel part of a unique ‘something’: a community of scholars of philanthropy. But what’s the value of such a community?

I am at my third ERNOP Conference and I can say it is the first time (shame on me!) that I seriously pose myself this question. I felt part of a community where more and more public and international institutions, fundraisers and foundations were scattered throughout the conference panels together with academics, either just curious about research going on or presenting their own contributions.

One aspect particularly caught my eye this year which I think is worth sharing. You could really feel the evolution of an ecosystem building itself piece by piece, where visibility and advocacy play a much greater role than in the past. Following some recent efforts at the European level such as the Philanthropy Scrum or the Philanthropy Manifesto, the ERNOP Board is constantly investing in in advocating for the specificities of philanthropy, the importance of rigorous research in a continuously growing field (at least €87.5 billion annually), the relevance of data collection and sharing on both descriptions and predictions of philanthropy for a better informed policy-making – as you can read in the super recent Memorandum of Understanding with the European Foundation Centre (EFC), announced during the closing plenary.

In my view, the strength of ERNOP is building knowledge around philanthropy as a community, dedicated to share a more complete, diverse and inclusive view of philanthropy in a world of Muggles. If you forgive me the metaphor à la Harry Potter, muggles are those who have no magical powers and do not know the specificities of the world of magic. For this reason, most muggles are either afraid of magic or believe it to be nothing but a fantasy. Well, the political world and the financial world – probably in some member states more than at the EU institutional level overall – do not seem too far from being considered muggles from the philanthropic side. Politicians because they need, want or have to regulate the field of third sector organizations overall, but they may not know it well; the financial world because it has jumped quite fast into the impact investing market and does not know its privileged speaker well – or at all.

In both cases, a far better knowledge of the sector of philanthropy and social investment is essential. Nothing that can be done without generating rigorous evidence. If the whole ERNOP community is able to keep a higher and higher rigour in the practice of research, while moving fast on the advocacy side, it is well positioned to play a primary role in contributing to depict philanthropy and social investment as a unique and fundamental piece of our society – full of magic indeed, more than we are all used to believe.

Elisa Ricciuti is Associate Professor of Practice of Government, Health and Not for Profit at SDA Bocconi School of Management and Post-doc Research Fellow at Università Bocconi.

The European Research Network On Philanthropy is an association of more than 250 academics aiming to advance philanthropy research in Europe. Learn more by visiting the website and sign up to the quarterly newsletter.

Tagged in: #ERNOP2019

Comments (2)

Elisa Ricciuti

Thank you Mr. Saxxon for your comment, very appreciated. I can't agree more. Diversity is very often high in words, but low in practice. Training on Diversity management would help - not only the philanthropic sector, of course. My best wishes for whatever you do in promoting diversity! Elisa

Larry L. Saxxon

Thank you, Ms. Ricciuti, I really appreciated your thoughtful observations and analysis. As a former program officer for a large foundation here in America, I am fascinated to monitor the growth and development of the sector in Europe and elsewhere. My only advise (if you will excuse my boldness) is that the sector should be acutely sensitive to diversity. The philanthropic sector in America has been far too slow to enact genuine diversity, in spite of the dynamic demographic changes that are known to be occurring. As a Black, gay, senior, disabled, man. (classic Intersectionality) ..I hope that you all might do better than we here., as American philanthropy still lingers in the demographics of the 1950s! Take care and thank you again for a very thoughtful article.

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