Experts for Optimy: Institutional Philanthropy in Italy

Today we hand it over to Carola Carazzone, General Secretary of Assifero, the national membership association of Italian grant-making foundations and private institutional philanthropy. She will share her views on the Italian and international evolution of institutional philanthropy and on the growing role of institutional foundations in Italy.

Now over to Carola:

Assifero today, is known as the national membership association of Italian grant-making foundations and private institutional philanthropy, and not anymore as an acronym of National Membership Association of Grant-Making Foundation. The change towards institutional philanthropy underlines the important cultural transfer the organisation had a few months ago, in line with the 2016-2020 strategic plan of the European Foundation Center (EFC). The concept of “institutional philanthropy” is wider than the one of “grant-making”, and it better describes our association as it doesn’t include just the concept of “grant-making”, but includes community philanthropies, ventures philanthropies and social investors (the ones that aim for an economic and social return regarding their philanthropic investments) as well.

Born in 2003 as a category association of grant-making foundation, Assifero now gathers 90 Italian foundations: among them, 50% are family foundations, 25% community foundations and the remaining 25% is represented by corporate foundations. The Association is, in turn, a member of several international associations, as EFC and the European network DAFNE.

Assifero aims to be the reference point of institutional philanthropy in Italy and works to promote effective and visible Italian philanthropy, that will let it be recognised as a strategic partner of human and sustainable development.

Internationally speaking, it is said that philanthropy is in the middle of a revolution: more investments, more people involved and interested, more young people. Do you think this is the same in the Italian context?

Nowadays, philanthropy is constantly growing, in Italy as well. This growth is probably due to the big gap that still exists between rich and poor. In Italy there is a downfall in terms of traditional charity: today, families are more keen on creating a foundation on their own and adopting a more strategic approach. Whoever decides to take the responsibilities of creating an organisation, wants to concretely contribute to change the society in which he/she lives, and to do so, he/she has a strategy in his/her mind.

This represents a clear change compared to the past, a cultural transfer from donation to investment that is gradually taking place since the last decade. This transfer is mostly due to cultural reasons and to profitable emulation, let’s think, as an example, to the recently built foundations in the fashion industry.

Although Assifero continuously receives applications of potential founders and new foundations, unfortunately, data collection is still hard in Italy, because a unique foundation register still doesn’t exist. Additionally, the Italian system still seems to be outdated, if we compare it with USA, Switzerland, Netherlands: our foundations are small and there is no tax cut.

Which are the areas of interest in Italy in which philanthropic activities focus on the most? What are the reasons behind this interest?

The areas of activity for our foundations are varied. The banking foundations (Acri), for example, devote 70% to art and culture.

Family foundations become effective when they identify a niche that is not covered by any other donor, as in EU, regions, cities, states, etc.  That’s, for sure, their added value, as they are free to take the risk to operate with different methodologies compared to big donors. For example, when we talk about welcoming (migrants), family foundations act more on the long-term integration, and they operate in fields in which no institution is operating. While the massive distribution still stays under government’s authority, foundations have more leeway and they can test original methodologies. Family foundations, however, are still young, so usually lack a focus point or a definite strategic plan and are still charity-based. Assifero works to make institutional philanthropy more aware, connected and effective.

Corporate foundations have other kinds of needs. For some of them, the scope of action is clearly defined, and it is linked to the budget, the vision and the strategy, all defined on a CSR level. For Example, Ikea exclusively devotes itself to promotional activity and the protection of rights to housing, refugee camps and refugees. With other types of corporate foundations, they have less defined objectives and fewer employees (moreover, they are really detached from their mother corporation). In some cases, it is still necessary to invest on activities’ professionalization.

Another different case is represented by community foundations, strictly linked to the territory. Here the focus, the scope of action and the strategy are clearly defined by the Board of Directors. Today we have 26 community foundations in Italy (among them, Fondazione di Comunità del Canavese), all managed by professionals.

Talking about technology, do you think that Italian foundations are conforming to the international trend? Is common procedure in Italy to open to digital and to the opportunities that softwares offer to optimise activities’ management?

Absolutely. Although Italy is still experiencing a digital divide, the Third Sector, foundations included, are renovating and even revealing some excellences. The TechSoup Italia program is helping a lot, getting foundations closer to innovation.

What are the main challenges for Italian philanthropy in 2017, according to you?

There are 3 main challenges Italy has to face as soon as possible:

#1 Philanthropy has to improve professionally speaking, the heart is not enough. Institutional philanthropy has to become more effective, to provide them with professionals who are able to recognise methodologies, to make foundation’s action more efficient, in a non-isolated context. The background has to be characterised by collaboration for the common well being. So yes, basically, investment is strongly needed. It is recommended to invest more on officers that work in foundations and on the foundation’s structure. The mere projects’ investment is not sufficient anymore.  

#2 It is necessary to avoid only acting when an emergency arises. It must be clear that foundations are not “stand-in”. Foundations must identify some niches and test, thanks to their independence and leeway, new methodologies that will be able to bring social innovation where the government cannot operate.

#3 North/South gap must be reduced. Italy keeps on being too divided. It is necessary to redistribute wealth, to improve emancipation and Southern sustainable development.

Our Takeaways:

#1 Change is ongoing: it’s time for institutional philanthropy.

#2 Generalising is out of the question, the scope of action changes for every type of foundation.

#3 Although digital divide, Italian foundations are opening to digital and softwares.

#4 Italian philanthropies have many challenges to face (professionalism, investment and inequality). It’s time to face and beat them!


About Carola Carazzone 

Carola Carazzone.jpg
With a law degree and international Master degree in Co-operation and Development in European School of Advanced Studies in Co-operation and Development in Università di Pavia, Carola Carazzone is a lawyer specialised in human rights at the International Institute of Human Rights Renée Cassin based in Strasbourg. She has been committed to social volunteering since her youth, then she has been devoting herself to international volunteering as well, reaching a twenty-year experience in planning, monitoring and evaluating human development programs in 18 extra-european countries. She has been the first woman to become Chairman of VIS – International Volunteer Service for Development one of the biggest Italian NGO – and she has been the first woman as well to be spokesperson of the Committee of Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, representing the committee in front of the Human Rights Council and different UN members, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and European Commission and Italian Institutions.


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