Accelerating growth of French funds and foundations

The French foundation sector is larger and more powerful than it has ever been, according to the third Overview of French Funds and Foundations published by the Fondation de France and the Centre Français des Fonds et Fondations (French Foundation Centre).

This marks an interesting change in a society where philanthropy has long been seen as a weak force. Encouraged by the state, the number of legal categories for foundations and funds has risen from three in 2001 to seven in 2010. Three special categories for higher education and research have appeared, and a new kind of fund – the fond de dotation (endowment fund), directly inspired by the American charitable trust, which is much easier to create and govern – has been introduced to bring some flexibility to a philanthropic system long marked by state control.

As a result of this opening up of philanthropic possibilities, the number of foundations in France has doubled from 1,108 in 2001 to 2,264 in 2010. There has been a corresponding rise in total assets of 72 per cent and in expenditure of 36 per cent (current euro values).

New foundations (excluding fonds de dotation) are mainly formed by individuals – alone or with their families – and corporations. (With fonds de dotation, 30 per cent are formed by associations.) Their money still goes principally to traditional foundation fields like social care, medical research or culture, but there has been an increase in giving to education, international solidarity and the environment. Spending on education has already risen significantly (from 3 per cent to 9 per cent of total foundation spending in 2009), but despite the increased interest, giving to international solidarity and the environment remains financially negligible.

There are two types of French foundation: operating foundations and grantmaking foundations. Although the latter constitute by far the majority (70 per cent of the total number of foundations), they account for a very low percentage of the total spending (12 per cent). One of the principal reasons for this is that the operating foundations include a number of very large, long-established social and healthcare providers which get significant financial support from the state. Overall, 48 per cent of the total resources of French foundations in 2009 came from the state. However, with the increase in the number of grantmaking foundations, this looks set to change, and in the future a higher percentage of French foundation assets is likely to be made up of private money.

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