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The foundation sector in Europe encompasses a wide variety of organisational forms, sizes and purposes.

A snapshot:

  • Foundations operate in every sphere of life – health, education, employment, environment, the arts, culture and human rights, to name a few
  • There are more than 114,000 “public-benefit foundations” in Europe making an impact at community, city, regional, national and international level
  • These organisations have a combined annual giving of more than 53 billion euros*

*Based on data compiled in 2014 by the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) and the EFC.

 

Learn more:

  • Access detailed country profiles in the Data on foundations section to learn more about the sector in some 40 countries, including facts & figures and in-depth legal and fiscal country profiles.
  • Discover the EFC Virtual Library, powered by IssueLab and containing over 600 free to download publications – including those published by the EFC – on philanthropy, the management of foundations and the areas they are involved in and support
  • Explore the FAQ on the sector below to learn more about foundations in Europe
  • Discover examples of the good work foundations are doing by visiting the Philanthropy House website

 

FAQ

There is no legal definition in Europe of “foundation”, which can mean something very different from one country to another. This is due to the many languages and cultures as well as the different legal and fiscal environments that exist across Europe. Nevertheless, whether they are called a “Trust” or “Fondazione”, foundations working for the public good tend to share a common set of characteristics, and a generally accepted definition is as follows:

“Public-benefit foundations are asset-based and purpose-driven. They have no members or shareholders and are separately constituted non-profit bodies. Foundations focus on areas ranging from the environment, social services, health and education, to science, research, arts and culture. They each have an established and reliable income source, which allows them to plan and carry out work over a longer term than many other institutions such as governments and companies.”

This definition is based on the articles of the EFC’s draft “Model Law for Public Benefit Foundations in Europe”, which were identified and agreed upon by experts and actors in the field among the EFC membership.

Due to the many different contexts across the European Union, especially regarding fiscal, legal, and social frameworks, it is very difficult to have accurate statistical estimates on public-benefit foundations across Europe. Knowledge on the foundation sector is thus more concentrated at national level by national associations of donors.

To find out more about the foundation sector in a particular country, visit the Data on Foundations section of our website where you can access individual profiles on the foundation sector in some 40 countries. These profiles include statistical information as well as information on the legal and fiscal environments at national level.

For a comparative overview of the different legal and fiscal operating environments across the EU and wider Europe, see the EFC publication, Comparative Highlights of Foundation Laws.

The EFC’s updated legal and fiscal profiles cover 28 EU Member States, plus Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine and the United States of America. The profiles are compiled with regularly updated information provided by national associations of foundations, EFC members, legal service professionals and academics.

You can access the legal and fiscal country profiles by going to the Data on foundations section of the website and exploring the individual country profiles linked from the map tool.

The profiles address issues concerning:

  • The legal environment of foundations, such as the purposes that foundations are allowed to pursue, the requirements for setting them up, and governance and transparency requirements
  • The tax treatment of foundations, with details on the income tax treatment of the foundation, including income from economic activities and asset management.
  • Tax incentives for individual and corporate donors, including in the context of cross-border donations
  • Recent legal trends and developments affecting foundations and the impact of the anti-terrorist debate

Each profile also provides contact information for relevant legal or foundation sector experts in the country concerned.

The process to establish a foundation differs greatly from country to country. The EFC has published a series of country profiles outlining the legal and fiscal frameworks for foundations across the European Union. Specifically, the profiles detail the purposes that foundations are allowed to pursue, the requirements for setting them up, governance and transparency requirements. The tax treatment of foundations is also discussed, with details on the income tax treatment of the foundation, including income from economic activities and asset management. There is also information on tax incentives for individual and corporate donors, including the issue of cross-border donations.

You can access the legal and fiscal country profiles by going to the Data on foundations section of the website and exploring the individual country profiles linked from the map tool.

In addition, the EFC has also produced Comparative Highlights of Foundation Laws which provides a comparative overview of the legal and fiscal environments of foundations across Europe.