How big is the space for philanthropy in Europe today? What can be done to protect and enlarge that space? These were the key questions addressed in a research report commissioned jointly by the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and the Donors and Foundations Network Europe (DAFNE).

The research was completed by Dr Oonagh Breen, professor of law at the UCD Sutherland School of Law.

The report makes useful differentiation in understanding of the ‘civic space’ which the report refers to as the wider horizon – and the ‘philanthropic space’. The space for philanthropy focuses on the enabling environment for donors/funders (and the philanthropic organisations they may create) who wish to use their private wealth for the public benefit While the report is largely focuses on what is termed Institutional Philanthropy, it does recognise that philanthropy can take many forms.

Legal, fiscal, or administrative obstacles (whether viewed as political or more simply “technical” problems) can impact on the philanthropic space and it’s potential for public good. The report emphasises that the importance of this space to society and democracy more generally should not be underestimated.

Significant and comprehensive detail is provided in relation to the structural space for philanthropy within the EU and wider Europe. This includes for example analysis of relevant Treaties along with overview of experiences to date at European level for the creation of structures in support of philanthropy.

As outlined in the summary of the report, three broad areas relevant to the functioning of the philanthropic space are analysed in detail, namely a) legal/regulatory measures; b) fiscal measures; and c) guidance/soft law, with details on each area and their interaction with each other.

PI notes one of the recommendations of the report, which it is suggested, could be led by national infrastructural organisations. This is the possible creation of a website resource and the pooling of national knowledge and knowhow, providing details on existing or emerging Member State tax authority procedures, along with guidance or links to the relevant resources for both donors and public benefit recipient organisations. It is felt this could be a valuable step forward for many philanthropic institutions, creating a clear and accessible understanding of the relevant operational landscapes.

The report highlights the current squeezing of the space for civil society in parts of Europe and the reverberations on the philanthropic space. It is a development and feature of concern across Europe, meriting a collective and collaborative response. In relation to emerging forms of venture philanthropy and social investment, the report highlights the need to further explore both their potential and their limitations as new tools for philanthropic growth.

Overall, by scanning the horizon of the operating space for philanthropy at across and within the European space, the report provides valuable insight and understanding of the structural space for philanthropy within the EU context and wider European space. The importance for Ireland includes creating understanding, learning and benchmarking with EU counterparts. Ireland being part of the EU space, the importance of international standards both for support and good practice of philanthropy is relevant for growth and development of the space here. It is a welcome report, notable in being authored by an Irish researcher, presenting a platform of issues for consideration in the Irish context.

This Reflection was written by Éilis Murray, CEO of Philanthropy Ireland