Foundations in Europe: Society, management and law by Andreas Schluter, Volker Then and Peter Walkenhorst (eds)

The past two decades have witnessed an upsurge in the number of foundations around the world. This volume ‘attempts to set new standards in comparative philanthropic research’ by assessing the current and historical roles of these institutions in Europe, focusing on their governance, organization and programmatic management, and the legal and political framework governing their activities.

The breadth of this ambitious undertaking is immediately apparent in the overview chapters by James Allen Smith, Karsten Borgmann and Helmut Anheier. Smith and Borgmann’s historical ‘tour d’horizon‘ traces the origins of European charitable trusts to antiquity, and to medieval notions of Christian charity, which they deem ‘the bedrock on which European foundations rest’. Born of a common religious ideology, these endowments became increasingly diverse with the rise of the modern nation state.

Anheier provides an overview of contemporary trends, tracing the contours of a sprawling universe of almost 90,000 foundations in 19 countries. Differing definitions, fields of activity, functions and models are discussed, with an eye towards emerging regional patterns in the current ‘renaissance’ of foundation development. As he explains, ‘a veritable foundation boom seems to have set in, beginning with the late 1980s’, albeit with strikingly uneven results. While Italy, Spain, Turkey and Portugal experienced high rates of foundation development, aided by recent legal reforms, Britain, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Greece had medium growth rates of 20 to 30 per cent per decade, and the foundation sectors in Austria, Belgium and France remained small owing to inhospitable customs and laws – patterns discussed more fully in the individual country surveys that follow.

Frances Pinter extends this analysis to Central and Eastern Europe, where international donors have played a particularly important role in seeding foundation development in former communist countries. Unlike Western Europe, foundations here began with an emphasis on rebuilding civil society, but more recently have taken on ‘quasi-state responsibilities’ in such fields as arts and education. Long-term sustainability is the key issue in this region.

The remainder of the volume focuses on managerial and legal topics, providing valuable discussions of foundation missions, public policy considerations, transparency, accountability, human resource management, institutionalization, entrepreneurship, programme management, international giving, tax treatments, supervision, and foundation establishment and liquidation. Each chapter discusses current models, backed by brief bibliographies. The volume concludes with detailed appendices on legislation in 24 European jurisdictions.

This is an excellent reference work, but it also reveals just how difficult it is to generalize on so broad a scale. One of the few comprehensive findings is that European traditions have ‘favored the establishment of operating’ rather than grantmaking foundations, which are barely discussed. Anheier mentions them in passing, suggesting that ‘only Britain, Germany and Italy’ and possibly the Netherlands have ‘a relatively high proportion’ of grantmakers, without adding substantive figures. This minimizes the importance of recent developments such as the emergence of community foundations, and fails to provide a fully nuanced portrait of foundation operations beyond the aggregate data. None the less, Foundations in Europe is an indispensable introduction to pan-European trends, and to the past, present and future challenges facing European trusts.

Kathleen D McCarthy is Director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy, The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She can be contacted by email at

Foundations in Europe: Society, management and law
Andreas Schluter, Volker Then and Peter Walkenhorst (eds) Directory of Social Change/ Charities Aid Foundation/ Bertelsmann Foundation £40/$59/59 euros/DM118
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