Promising Ideas, Challenges, and a Look Into the Future of Philanthropy – The German Foundations Day 2023




Civil Society, Human Rights and Migration

By Philipp Breer

Under the motto “Dialogue, Learning and Networking”, the Deutscher Stiftungstag 2023 set out to create a forum for exchange between foundations and civil society but also from politics, science and business. Participants had the opportunity to exchange views on current topics and developments in the foundation sector, share best practices and establish new contacts.

Youth at The German Foundations Day 2023: #30unter30

As a part of group #30unter30, I was invited to participate in the event which was initiated by the organisers to bring youth into the dialogue. After an interactive networking session, we engaged in a workshop about the future of the foundation sector. Afterwards, a quick input session was conducted where best practices for foundations and other non-profit organisations were brainstormed. During this session, it was our task to also address the question of how the future of philanthropy for our generation.

While there were a lot of valuable and important suggestions and visions, one that stood out the most was the need for German foundations to take a more proactive approach to their work while simultaneously catalysing all possible resources to tackle crucial social and environmental issues with collaborative efforts. This does not only mean facilitating an easier way to work with other organisations and stakeholders to combine resources but also lowering thresholds for people looking for new opportunities for the purpose of materialising their ideas and potential. In practice, this was an effort to call for lower requirements in acquiring funds, as well as in engaging in new networks and establishing greater transparency within and beyond the sector to share learnings more actively and in a way that is easier to access.

Following the introductory day of networking with the group, and after having the chance to put forward ideas for the future development of the sector in a smaller circle of participants, we joined the main program of the Stiftungstag along with the other participants.

The Convention: New Impulses and Challenges

The second day started for us with the 75th anniversary celebration of the hosts, the “Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen”, and an introduction to the agenda for the rest of the day. In addition to looking at promising ideas and trend-setting visions, this also included a critical examination of challenges and a look into the future of philanthropy.

Promising Ideas and Trend-Setting Visions

Foundations have been a cornerstone of society for a long time, supporting a wide range of causes such as education, science, art and culture, social welfare, and the environment. Consequently, they are widely considered to support citizens in these areas where state capacities are missing. In doing so, foundations generally set out to work on their goals over an extended period in long-term issues, for example, equality of opportunity in education, renewable energy, integration and many others. Therefore, many members of foundations and other non-profit organisations working on topics related to grass-root efforts like on-site clean energy resources like solar panels for local community foundations as well as schools, tutoring of pupils and mentoring of students, among many were present at the congress.

Challenges and A Look Into The Future

However, new realities in society, such as climate change, the rapidly increasing concentration of wealth in a small number of people and the lack of widespread quality education, among other pressing issues, sustain a need for foundations to adapt and reform their structures and practices to support societies in a meaningful way.

What is needed for a substantial change, is the integration of youth in decision-making processes within German foundations. It is crucial to involve young people in decision-making processes to ensure that foundations remain responsive to the needs of future generations. Additionally, the lack of diversity in leadership in foundations and philanthropy, also visible during the Deutsche Stiftungstag, can lead to a disconnection from the needs of society and result in decisions that do not reflect the perspectives of the underrepresented groups. While initiatives such as #30unter30 can play a vital role in promoting greater youth engagement in the leadership and decision-making of German foundations, much more is needed to account for greater diversity within the leadership of foundations.

Legitimacy Through Diversity?

The longer this process takes, the more questions regarding the legitimacy of foundations and connecting sectors of non-profit organisations will arise. For this, I want to highlight one contribution to the discussion: Considering ever-more pressing crises, wouldn’t it be best if the capital in foundations is set free and immediately put to use in communities? While the work that this sector does is without question invaluable to many people and society as a whole, the concentration of power among a small group of people within German foundations can result in decisions that benefit a select few rather than the wider society and concentrates power in a democratic system to a selected, wealthy few.

By addressing these issues and working proactively, based on diversity, trust and collaborative action, foundations can continue to make a positive contribution to society and be seen as legitimate and relevant institutions.


About the author:

Philipp Breer is a student of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Cologne and is currently working as a student assistant at the Global Diplomacy Lab.

Published on June 22, 2023

Photo Credit: Drew Beamer

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