Italy is probably the only country in the world, apart from the USA, in which community philanthropy is growing without a single penny coming from abroad. This is mainly thanks to the involvement of the Cariplo Foundation, which is promoting a major project to cover all of Lombardy with a network of community foundations.
Since the official launch of the project in 1998, 14 community foundations have been established and a new one is scheduled to open in the autumn. These cover the entire region with the exception of the city of Milan. Moreover, the Cariplo experience has inspired six other community philanthropy organizations in other parts of the country.
The results are impressive: at the end of last year, these community foundations had a combined endowment of €126 million, of which €30 million was raised locally. In 2005, they gave away €13.5 million in 1,200 grants and raised more then €75 million in almost 3,000 gifts. If, at the beginning, there was a lot of scepticism, and the Cariplo Foundation itself was more interested in creating a network of institutions that could help it build relationships with local communities, now the goal is to make these foundations community centres for charitable giving.
The central goal of the Italian community foundations is to promote the culture of giving. Their mission is not to change the world but to give every citizen an opportunity to help shape the common good, regardless of his/her values. They do not want to take a lead in providing solutions to problems; they prefer to take the humbler approach of being a tool people can use to achieve their charitable goals.
In pursuit of this, they provide services for donors and try to use their resources as a lever to promote the giving of time, money, goods and services. What is really unique in the charitable sector is not the services it can provide itself, but the promotion of this sense of responsibility and compassion that is the real foundation of a society that can call itself civil.