German foundations on the brink of change

Germany’s foundation and philanthropy sector, at a glance

Number of foundations: 22,274 (2017); source: Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen
Main umbrella body: Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations), established in 1958
State of the sector: On the cusp of change – in equal parts getting ready and blissfully unaware
Biggest opportunity in the sector: The size of the sector, foundations are very well networked within the traditional German foundation world
Biggest challenge for the sector: To take advantage of the many good opportunities, to develop agility

20 September 2018

Interview with Felix Oldenburg, General Secretary, Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations)


Felix, what are the three broad issues that will drive the German foundation and philanthropy sector in the next 10 years?
We have an unprecedented confluence of four factors driving change: the low interest new normal, a wave of digital transformation, the next generation taking charge, and a late, but fast, acceleration of globalisation of philanthropy.

Which topics do you expect philanthropy to focus on?
Philanthropy can think long term. The popular causes are stable: education and social issues have been and will remain on the top of the list for decades. Most existing foundations are tied to them but will explore new ways of doing things. However, we can already see a next generation of foundation leaders and philanthropists expanding into journalism and political activism. I also expect that we will see foundations committed to solving the problems of the digital age.

What is traditional philanthropy and how do you expect this to develop in the future?
What is “traditional”? Germany has foundations that are several hundred years old, and many look surprisingly modern. Foundations used to be social entrepreneurs, social holding companies and social investors. Some were even crowdfunding efforts. There is lots to learn about the future from the more distant past.

What role will philanthropy take?
I see philanthropists applying a broader toolset than ever before. Individual foundations, however, are often locked in to doing things the way they were set up or the way the regulator understands. I hope we can adapt the regulatory environment quickly enough.

Will German philanthropy be more nationally focused or also regional and global?
Much of philanthropy will continue to operate on a local level but informed by and connected to a global solution and collaboration space.

On an international level, we can observe an increase in the for-profit philanthropy approach. What implication does this have for the development of foundations and philanthropy in Germany?
In Germany, for-profit philanthropy is little understood, and most would consider it a contradiction. However, there is no doubt in my mind that institutional philanthropy will continue to move towards using the full spectrum of finance to help their ideas to achieve their full market potential.

Are there some development we are not yet aware of on an international level, but that you can see coming along in the future?
We tend to look at the top 20 but Germany has 22,000+ foundations, and the innovation typically happens at the edge. I would love to bring not only community foundations but also church foundations and governmental foundations into a more global conversation.

If people want to get informed about news and trends in philanthropy in Germany, where can they find this information? Period.


Compiled by the EZ-Scout seconded to the Association of German Foundations

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