The springtime of foundations

A UNICEF-led cash transfer operation in Mauritania in 2021

“If the 20th century in France was the century of associations, the 21st will be the century of foundations”.[1]

The Fondation de France’s recent study [2] is a masterly illustration of this prophecy.

The results of this study speak for themselves, but let’s take a look back at the origins of this momentum. “This century was three years old…” as Victor Hugo might have written, when the so-called Aillagon law of August 2003 was enacted, giving new impetus to the associative sector that appeals to the public’s generosity. This law was a welcome addition to the law on foundations of July 1990.

I won’t go back over the improvements to the various tax measures it introduced to encourage donations and bequests to public-interest organizations, and refer you to the text of the law.[3].

As far as foundations are concerned, the law facilitates the creation of RUP (Reconnue d’Utilité Publique) foundations, and opens up the possibility of transforming them into sheltering foundations. The text also makes corporate foundations more agile, notably by facilitating access to manual donations for their stakeholders.

The acceleration of the legislative pace will complete the legal framework, making it one of the most advanced in the Western world.

Here are just a few of the milestones marking the beginning of this century:

  • 2006: creation of the Fondation de Coopération Scientifique (with an expendable endowment)
  • 2007, creation of partnership foundations and unincorporated university foundations.
  • 2008: law on endowment funds, enabling the creation of quasi-foundations.
  • Finally, on July 21, 2009, the law on hospital reform and patients, health and territories introduced the creation of hospital foundations.

France, which had no law on foundations until 1990, is catching up with its northern neighbors with impressive momentum!

Leaving aside the plethora of static, not to say dormant, endowment funds, the Fondation de France counts almost 5400 endowment funds and foundations, including the 1742 sheltered foundations.

What does this picture tell us?

Recent legislation has led to the emergence of new vehicles favoured by philanthropists and patrons. i.e. philanthropists = individuals and patrons = companies.

Endowment Funds and Sheltered Foundations have been widely preferred to RUP Foundations and Corporate Foundations.

A wide variety of founders – individuals, companies, associations, hospitals, universities, local authorities, etc. – have opted for more flexible and less demanding endowment frameworks.

These entities represent a growing economic weight in the third sector

The €14 billion in expenditure should be seen in the context of the €60 billion weight of the sector. In other words, 0.5% of the number of non-profit organizations now account for almost 25% of total expenditure.

It is, however, regrettable that this excellent study does not specify which expenses, mainly for operating foundations, come from the generosity of the public and companies, and which from day fees, agreements, subsidies or services.

This distinction would have made it possible to determine the proportion of funds raised by operating foundations and by redistributors.

To better understand the dynamics of the data presented in this report, let’s specify which type of structure we’re dealing with.

Operating and distributing foundations are two major types of foundation in the philanthropic landscape. These foundations have different characteristics in terms of structure, operation and mission.

An operational foundation, also known as a “full-service foundation”, carries out activities directly in pursuit of its corporate purpose. It develops its own programs and projects, and in the case of the most powerful, manages its own establishments.

Distributing foundations do not themselves carry out operational activities, but make grants to other organizations working in their field of interest. They are the fastest-growing group in terms of the number of foundations created.

It is important to note that some foundations may have a hybrid nature, i.e. they may both carry out their own actions and support other organizations. Such foundations are often referred to as “mixed foundations”.

It should also be noted that both types of foundation may be financed by an endowment or successive endowments from their founders. In this case, they do not require external support.

Outlook for these two types of foundation

  • Endowment funds and foundations

Endowment foundations, whether operational or distributing, clearly have considerable potential, given the increasing socialization of assets and fortunes, whether intergenerational or entrepreneurial. As indicated in the study, more than two-thirds of these are created by individuals and companies who will obviously not be appealing to public generosity.

If we had to name just a few[4], among the most powerful are the Pierre Fabre Shareholder Foundation, the Daniel and Nina Carasso Sheltered Foundation and the Anyama Endowment Fund.

  • Funds and collecting foundations, whether operational or distributing

The development of collecting foundations, whether operational or distributing, is less obvious. It is clear that the creation of this type of vehicle will be less dynamic, or even stagnant, given the strong competition for philanthropic euros.

For redistributing foundations, the path is virtually blocked, unless they are born of a novel fund-raising initiative, e.g. Ze Event.[5], solidarity lotteries, such as Novamedia[6] in the Netherlands, a cause championed by a star: cf. RED and Bono[7], or by a generous crowd mobilizing millions of donors, like Time for the Planet[8] even though it’s not a foundation.

For operational foundations, if they have not been involved in fund-raising for several years, the barrier to entry becomes prohibitive, as it requires an investment that ensures a distant return on investment.

So, what does this study tell us?

As already mentioned, the rise of foundations marks a real turning point.

It illustrates the concentration of resources in the hands of a few thousand wealthy individuals and powerful corporations.

This paradigm shift continues to raise questions about the democratic representativeness of these organizations and their ability to dictate choices on matters of general interest.

But just as the American philanthropist competes with the State and its satellites, so the philanthropist and patron of the arts in continental Europe complements the action of the welfare state.

In France, the generosity of individual and corporate donors, who have endowed their foundations, goes mainly to social causes and medical research, which gives us hope that the enlightened philanthropic despots will have less control over the general interest.



Antoine Vaccaro 

Holder of a doctorate in organizational science, he has worked for a number of major non-governmental organizations and communications groups, including Fondation de France, Médecins du Monde and TBWA, and is Chairman of CerPhi and Force for Good. Co-founder of several professional bodies: Association Française des Fundraisers, Comité de la Charte de déontologie des organismes faisant appel à la générosité publique, Euconsult, La chaire de Philanthropie de l’Essec. Investor with Heoh, Qu’est ce qui tourne? My Quick Win. He has published several books and articles on philanthropy and fund-raising.




[1] Francis Charhon








A look at the results of the 2019 generosity overview

After more than 50 hours of live streaming on the Twitch platform, the streamers who participated in Z Event 2021, a charity video game marathon, raised just over 10 million euros for the NGO Action Against Hunger. A record amount for such an event © Action Against Hunger

The latest panorama of generosity for the year 2019, conducted by the Fondation de France and coordinated by Daniel Bruneau, has shown the continuing dynamics of French philanthropy and confirms the projections and trends already traced over the past 30 years in most “Western” societies

If we look in the rear-view mirror to measure the evolution of French generosity over the last 30 years, putting it in perspective with that of Americans, what do we see?

In the United States, the amount given by Americans in 1991 was $124.8 billion, compared to $264 billion in 2015, i.e. a multiplication by 2.12 in a quarter of a century (for the record, in 2019 this figure has climbed to $449 billion, i.e. a 1.7-fold increase in 4 years, and thus a 3.0-fold increase in 30 years)[1].

If we make the same comparison for France, we were around 1.5 billion € in 91 (extrapolation from the Archambault-Boumendil study)[2] against 8.5 billion in 2019, that is to say a multiplication by 6. Interesting, but we were starting from such a low base.

But the parallel does not end there, the same trends can be seen in more segmented analyses:

  • An increase in the overall amount of donations from individuals, despite a decreasing number of donors. This trend is indicative of the deterioration in the income and assets of the smallest taxpayers.
  • A concentration of donations made by the highest income earners and the wealthiest in exorbitant proposals, particularly in the USA where 2% of donors now account for 50% of donations to the philanthropic sector[3].
  • Gifts (bequests, donations, life insurance) are steadily increasing, with the expectation of a real explosion, particularly in Europe[4] prophesied by Richard Radcliffe.
  • Strong growth in corporate philanthropy (which is a French singularity compared to the Anglo-Americans), particularly marked among small companies.
  • The rise in fundraising flows from NICTs (New Information and Communication Technologies), which is still poorly understood from a statistical point of view, but which shows a dynamic that is still far from having reached its full potential. In 2019, Giving Tuesday raised $2 billion in one day. In 4 years, Facebook Fundraisers has raised over €2 billion, including €1 billion on birthday pages. The global crowdfunding market represented in 2020 an industry of nearly €1,000 billion. 40% of people under 35 years old have already participated in a crowdfunding campaign. All generations are on social networks. 90.5% of “Y”, 77.5% of “X” 48.2% of Boomers. Crypto-currency donations are increasing in parallel with the increase in the value of crypto-currencies on the market [5].”
  • Resistance to traditional fundraising media: mailings, phoning and street fund-raising. Surprising as it may seem, despite the regular announcement of their accelerating decline, direct marketing tools (mailings, phoning, street fund-raising) remain the main fund-raising vehicles. But in my opinion, this is only a respite, because the new generations of donors are staying away from these solicitations, with the notable exception of street fund-raising, which still attracts the youngest donors.
  • Finally, in this world of generalized overproduction and waste, the acceleration of donations in kind, in the circular economy, seems to meet the aspiration of donors concerned about the accelerated degradation of our environment.
On August 31, 2021, Solidarités International and the management science master’s program at the University of Paris-Dauphine signed a partnership agreement in which the two institutions agreed to develop collaborations for a period of three years. Solidarités International

In conclusion, everything indicates that philanthropy has a very bright future.

The same excellent prospective study, quoted above, carried out by the Adfinitas agency[6] for the 2025 horizon, to which we refer you. Based on this analysis, we can easily imagine a fund-raising system dominated by the generous crowd doped with AI (Artificial Intelligence), with donor rates in relation to the population no longer at 40% but at 70 or 80%. These generous crowds will be not only donors, but also collectors, mobilizers, and even operators, eager to implement by themselves the solutions to the ills that nonprofits usually tackle.

However, a point of vigilance. It is very likely that, even apart from a general collapse (climate, pollution, repeated pandemics, global conflicts), the necessary reduction of inequalities through redistribution by taxation will not be imposed, in the image of the policy that followed the New Deal until 1984 (FD Roosevelt imposed an 85% tax on any income over $1 million per year).

Because this fiscal rigor has since been eroded to the point of recreating this abysmal gap between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, wiping out the standard of living of the middle classes in the process, we are likely to see a return to taxing the richest and, as a result, a decline in philanthropy.

Antoine Vaccaro

Who is Antoine Vaccaro ?

Antoine Vaccaro holds a doctorate in organizational science – Management of non-market economies, Paris-Dauphine, 1985.

After a career in large non-governmental organizations and communications groups: Fondation de France, Médecins du Monde, TBWA; he is the president of CerPhi (Center for Study and Research on Philanthropy) Force For Good and the Fund-raising Lab. He holds various volunteer positions within associations and foundations and is also co-founder of several professional organizations promoting private funding of public interest causes: Association Française des fundraisers, Comité de la charte de déontologie des organismes faisant appel à la générosité publique, Euconsult, La chaire de Philanthropie de l’Essec, 2011.

He has published various books and articles on philanthropy and fund-raising.




[1] Giving USA