The future is now: opening the conversation towards the future of philanthropy in Germany


Victoria Hugelshofer and Anne Marie Jacob


How can foundations use participatory approaches to prevent structural exclusion? How to counter the power imbalance between funders and the organizations they support? How to promote diversity and gender equity? How to build a relationship of trust between funding partners and create room for joint innovation?

These are just a few of the profound questions that have come to move philanthropic practice around the world. And they are questions that clearly show: the major social challenges of growing global social and economic inequality, the climate crisis, demographic change, political division, and increasing distrust of institutions do not stop at the foundation sector.

Against the backdrop of unequal standing and decision-making power between funders and funded organizations, as well as in the context of traditionally evolved, highly hierarchical organizational structures, the role of foundations is coming under increasingly frequent and public scrutiny. The years of the pandemic in particular have significantly heightened all our awareness of the social imbalances of our time, their intersections, and the need for change. In order to live up to their own responsibility and to remain credible as a sector, the values and principles that foundations often pay lip service to in their statutes invoking trust, participation, diversity, and transparency must also become integral to daily philanthropic practice.

Founded in this context of growing societal debates and challenges, the initiative #TrustCreatesImpact (#VertrauenMachtWirkung) supports foundations to collaboratively develop and thrive not despite of social change but because of it. Launched in 2019, the initiative currently counts more than 30 member foundations. #TrustCreatesImpact strives towards a vision we call the Foundation of the Future (Stiftung der Zukunft), and thereby serves as a platform where foundations meet, exchange ideas, and bring about change in a shared effort.

9 theses – a compass for reflection and progress

As a framework for self-critical reflection and basis for development in the philanthropic sector, the initiative put forward 9 considerations compiled in a joint exchange with representatives of numerous German foundations. The considerations constitute the core of our initiative, provide a guiding compass for our member foundations, and aspire to serve as inspiration for the diverse philanthropic landscape in Germany and across the world that lies beyond. They are principles designed to ensure that the change we collectively aim for is shaped in an ongoing dialogue.

  1. Foundations of the Future incorporate diversity and participation.
  2. Foundations of the Future listen carefully.
  3. Foundations of the Future share power.
  4. Foundations of the Future are transparent.
  5. Foundations of the Future work collaboratively.
  6. Foundations of the Future promote innovation.
  7. Foundations of the Future talk about their mistakes.
  8. Foundations of the Future fund without restrictions.
  9. Foundations of the Future build capacities.

Shaping the Foundation of the Future: by practitioners for practitioners

As a community of practice, #TrustCreatesImpact creates spaces for continuous exchange and experience sharing between philanthropic practitioners to jointly reflect on the 9 considerations and ways of implementing them in the sector. We thus strive to generate impulses for collective action – as well as guidance for each foundation’s individual interpretation of the considerations within the framework of its own vision and mission.

A look at the initiative’s short guidebooks #ParticipationCreatesImpact, #DiversityCreatesImpact and the recently published #ListeningCreatesImpact (all currently available in the German language on our website) reveals that many foundations in Germany have already begun to critically reflect on their structures and processes, share their questions and concerns with others in the philanthropic community, and by doing so have found innovative ways to address challenges in a practice-oriented manner. Some organizations have created participatory structures, such as youth or girls’ advisory councils, which decide on the allocation of project funding from the foundations. For other foundations, it has been important to respond to the COVID-pandemic with flexible project adjustments and special grants. There is also an increasing number of foundations that are advancing the issue of diversity within their organization by, for example, adapting their mission statements, rethinking recruitment processes, or establishing working groups to promote diversity-sensitive language. Lastly, there are foundations that support their funding partners with a long-term capacity-building aim beyond project-based funding, for example by offering further training, providing required expertise or opening up access to their networks. Since no foundation is the same, they all focus on different issues and have chosen different speeds of transformation.

All these examples of structural change essentially reflect that the Foundation of the Future must constantly deliberate its own role and social responsibility – and re-examine the steps it can best take to fulfil it. This is achieved primarily through honest and regular exchange with its funding partners and target groups, as well as within the framework of cross-foundation and cross-sector networks. In addition, the Foundation of the Future is characterized by a willingness to learn as well as by the courage to venture new approaches and innovations without fear of failure. This means not only accepting mistakes as a given but thriving through them – and understanding oneself as part of a greater philanthropic whole with shared experiences and common goals.

#TrustCreatesImpact: what’s next?

In recent months, the initiative and its member foundations have been focusing on the topic of listening in philanthropic work (consideration #2) – a practice that gained particular importance throughout the pandemic as both funders and funded organizations were confronted with unprecedented uncertainties and challenges in their work. In a bimonthly digital breakfast series, the initiative offered a space for presenting best practice examples and discussing hurdles for best engaging with partner organizations and target groups, and sustainably integrating findings into internal structures and processes. Furthermore, to compile the gathered best practice and knowledge we recently published our third handbook #ListeningCreatesImpact with various practical tips, insights into foundation work and reading suggestions.

Based on the positive feedback of our member foundations on the extended deep dive into one of the considerations, the initiative plans on collaboratively exploring further considerations in the upcoming year 2022. In this context, the initiative’s two-year anniversary event held at the beginning of November served as an occasion to initially explore potential foci and gather insights into how the theses can overall be further consolidated in the future and sustainably integrated into the philanthropic sector.

If you would like to share your ideas or feedback on the Foundation of the Future, our 9 theses or any of our publications, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

Victoria Hugelshofer and Anne Marie Jacob (both of Wider Sense) accompany debates and discussions around the Foundation of the Future as part of the back office of #TrustCreatesImpact.

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