The Swiss Foundation Code 2015: A state of the art regulatory for grant-making foundations

 

Heiko Specking

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The new Swiss Foundation Code (SFC) 2015 was launched last month, in Zurich. This completely revised third edition of self-regulatory governance guidelines consists of three core principles and 29 (three more than the 2009 code) recommendations which should be applied in compliance with those three guiding fundamentals.

The code, first published in 2005 and followed by an extended version in 2009, has gained tremendous acceptance within the philanthropy sector and has become a fixed landmark in the Swiss foundation landscape. It is considered the gold-standard for grant-making foundations to implement as a self regulation tool.

And as one of the first recognised governance codes for public-benefit foundations in Europe, the SFC has inspired similar codes in other countries.[1] For example the Gebert Rüf Stiftung and the Jacobs Foundation have carefully reflected the code in their guidelines.

Recent high profile cases of foundation and charity mismanagement has sensitised the public and foundations now have to demonstrate their credibility and impact, leading to greater professionalism, transparency and efficiency. This is the new dawn of innovative, clear and practicable governance structures and many foundations so far have already taken the opportunity guided by the SFC to brush up their administrative processes and implement a sound governance structure. In parallel the open societal discussion of the code is very important for the dynamic within the sector.

The SFC 2015 raises questions about a professional and sustainable investment strategy for the endowments of foundations. Where does the money come from? How do we as a foundation invest the money responsibly? Are investments aligned with the cause and is an investment policy formulated and in place? Which new task have to be met from asset management side and financial advisors to comply with newly implemented standards?

We see that the investment side and the grant-making activities of a foundation are slowly coming together and may as well be combined. Still there is much more to do from the regulatory side to further ease that process.

So it is really about finances – and the board members are responsible! They need to better understand their obligations and act accordingly. On the other side, some of the impact a foundation chooses to realize shall in the future be met through a sound investment strategy with clear long-term evaluation processes in place. Given that the estimated wealth of charitable foundations in Switzerland is around 70 billion Swiss francs, there is a lot of impact to be realized through investing the money wisely and with clear purpose.

The beauty of the code is that it is voluntary; it guides and enhances reflection on the matter according to the specific circumstances of a foundation, and is not binding.

I believe the SFC 2015 is a very valuable piece of wisdom that should be taken into consideration by all players in the philanthropy sector. Grant-making foundations should reflect on the recommendations and guiding principles. But lawyers, trustees and other charitable structures are responsible for discussing and implementing the suggested content from within the code at their own discretion.

The Swiss Foundation Code 2015: Principles and recommendations for the founding and leadership of grant-making foundations, 226 pages. Co-written by Thomas Sprecher, Philipp Egger, Georg von Schnurbein. ISBN 978-3-7190-3699-7. The book is published in German, French, Italian and English. Further information via http://www.swissfoundationcode.ch.

Heiko Specking, founder and partner of specking+partners ltd.


Footnotes

  1. ^ There is a good overview of governance and best practise codes from other countries in the appendix of the book.

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