What are the key challenges for Corporate Foundations? Are there common emerging trends in Europe on Corporate Philanthropy? Where are the future opportunities for business’s engaging in Corporate Giving?

These were just some of the themes explored at a recent Knowledge Exchange organised by DAFNE, the Donors and Funders Network of Europe, and CFF, the Centre Français des Fonds et Fondations. The event at the INSEAD campus in Fontainebleau was attended by over 80 representatives from Corporate Foundations and national foundation networks in Europe.


Amanda Jordan, Chair of the Trustee Board of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and Co-Founding Director of Corporate Citizenship, gave an overview of the European Corporate Foundations environment and challenges. Noting that Corporate Foundations are becoming more integrated with their parent company (research indicating 76%), Jordan highlighted key challenges they face:

  • Legal requirements, often more complex than anticipated and a barrier to mission
  • Reluctance from Trustees
  • Lack of buy in from the parent company
  • Lack of funds, most particularly adequate resources for core activity
  • Persisting expectations from stakeholders

Anne Ramonda, Executive Director of the Social Economy and not for profit Department at Ernst & Young, presenting research on Corporate Foundations in France, noted that 80% support projects multi-annually with the 3 main areas of focus being Social Welfare, Education and Employability.  The research further indicated that evaluation is no longer the exclusive practice of large companies with an increasing focus and emphasis placed on assessment and review of outcomes. There is increasing cooperation between Corporate Foundations and NPOs.


There was some consensus on the key issues of concern for Corporate Foundations:

  • the need for strong, robust and transparent governance
  • impact measurement is of increasing importance
  • the composition of the Board is critical – balance and independence
  • process for selection of beneficiaries – transparency and independence yet integrated.


An interactive workshop with Lonneke Roza, from the Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Steffen Bethmann, from the Centre for Philanthropy Studies at the University of Basel, addressed effective governance of Corporate Foundations. They referred to their ‘hybrid nature’ – as independent legal institutions they are obliged to fulfil a public purpose and seek effective ways to achieve their mission. However, as Corporate Foundations are almost never truly independent they are also subject to ‘for-profit market logic’. Their quote from Nielsen (1979) seemed quite apt – ‘Like the Giraffe, they could not possibly exist, but they do’!

Using a template for participants from Corporate Foundations to reflect on their own structures, they suggested there are 4 philanthropy styles characteristic of Corporate Foundations:

  • instrumental – linked to a business need/benefit
  • complementary – to the purpose of the business
  • reputational – concerned with and focusing on enhancing business
  • purpose-driven – focused on an agreed mission


In summary they noted:

  • All models are valid approaches for Corporate Foundations. None is necessarily better than the other.
  • Corporate Foundations are great tools to achieve positive social impact and are a possibility for corporations to show their philanthropic engagement.
  • A good governance structure supports the goal of both actors. Full independence is not necessarily the best choice.
  • Company resources add to the power of Corporate Foundations. It is important to keep in mind though, that the aim of any governance relationship should be to enable the foundation in maximizing its potential for positive social impact.


The closing sessions provided opportunity for exchange of information on what Corporate Foundations were actually doing. Well, while it seems there is huge variety of activity, there are commonalities, such as:

  • Grant making and social investment – in common with foundation concept
  • Employee engagement – mechanisms for volunteering, matching programmes, etc.
  • Complementing CSR – but noting the difference, CSR being a direct business activity, ensuring business is ethical, treats employees well and is sustainable; foundations on the other hand devise their own programmes for spending and resource allocation.


So what were the ‘take-aways’ from the event? It is hard to do justice in a summary, but of note is:

  • Corporate Foundations are great tools to achieve social impact
  • Reputational risk will always be a critical factor but with support can be addressed
  • Communications is so important at multiple levels – internally the business and the foundation must have the same narrative; externally communications between Corporate Foundations could provide real support
  • Importance of Mission – why is this being done, what will be achieved?
  • Relationship with the funding company – can be dynamic, with many challenges but so full of opportunity.

The exchange of knowledge was the real winner of the event.
A format which can provide real impetus for moving forward, supporting the development and growth of the Corporate Foundation space in the world of philanthropy.


If you are interested in the individual presentations given during the knowledge exchange, please do email us at  info@philanthropy.ie to request them.