Share |

For a few dollars more: Europe’s ten most generous family foundations

Google the word philanthropy and the word 'stiftung' – or 'foundation' in German – comes up many times over. Many eminent philanthropy experts are based there, and many global philanthropic projects lead back to German foundations; so it seems clear Germany is probably Europe's leader in family philanthropy. Even though the country is faced with its highest unemployment rates since World War II, Germany continues to make a sizeable contribution to European and global philanthropy, fuelled by families selling their companies and realising their wealth.
This list can be seen as an accurate guide to activity in the philanthropy sector, but due the lack of data – we used information on total expenditure from 2003 as 2004 figures (€) are not yet available, and knowledge supplied by Philanthropy In Europe magazine - it cannot be seen as definitive. We extend our thanks to the foundations who provided their information, and to Karina Holly, founder and Editor of Philanthropy In Europe.

1. Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse    €105.2m
Fourth generation scion of Sweden's wealthy and influential Wallenberg clan, Knut established this foundation in 1918 with his wife Alice while head of Stockholm Enskilda Bank, after a raft of notable contributions to Swedish society including founding the Stockholm School of Economics. Still the largest private foundation in the country – and standing shoulder to shoulder with Stateside contemporaries Rockerfellers and Carnegies in its contributions abroad – the foundation's mandate is primarily focused on funding universities, higher education and scientific research that benefits Sweden. Today the Wallenberg family, who through major stakes held by their Investor AB in companies like Ericsson, Electrolux and Saab control some 40% of the Swedish stockmarket (and 11% of the company that owns the stock-market) are represented at the foundation by chairman Peter Wallenberg Snr, eleventh generation of the family and honourary chairman of Investor. A handful of other Wallenberg family members have established separate philanthropic foundations; in 1997 Jewish scholar Baruch Tenenbaum founded the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation to promote "solidarity, dialogue and understanding" through a range of global education projects. Budapest-based diplomat Raoul disappeared in January 1945 after rescuing of tens of thousands Jews condemned by the Nazis during World War II, and remains missing to this day.

2. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation    €102.7m
Established after his death in 1955, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation commemorates the man of the same name who made his money in oil and ploughed it back into philanthropic activities. Based in Lisbon, the foundation concerns itself with social welfare issues like education and the arts. The foundation has a UK office which also focuses on nurturing Anglo-Portuguese cultural relations; this office is headed up by Michael Essayan, great-grandson of Calouste and the only family member involved in the foundation. Essayan is due to retire from the role this June, and it is unclear if there are other family members who could take over. Armenian-born Calouste made his fortune by being one of the first to open up the Middle Eastern oil markets to international trade, and was one of the founders of oil behemoth, Shell Group. He earned the nickname 'Mr Five Per Cent' by selling off various oil companies he founded but retaining a five percent shareholding. Calouste spent his lifetime building up an impressive art collection with his wealth – housing paintings by revered artists like Rubens and Turner, as well as many Armenian and Islamic pieces - which he later housed in a purpose-built museum in Lisbon. The foundation recently loaned the collection to New York's Metropolitan Museum.

3. Bertelsmann Foundation    €61m
Despite being third on the list, the Bertelsmann Foundation is regarded as the world's largest charitable foundation. Founded in 1977 by Reinhard Mohn, fifth generation member of media conglomerate Bertelsmann's founding Mohn and Bertelsmann families, the foundation's mandate is three-fold: as an 'operating foundation' (it runs and funds its own projects) the primary aim is to identify and tackle various societal, educational and fiscal issues facing Germany including studying the work/life balance, and alleviating child poverty. Secondly, its department to promote philanthropy is regarded as one of the most influential in advising wealthy families on how to set up their own foundations. Lastly, the foundation itself serves to protect the perpetuation of Bertelsmann AG in family hands. In 2003 the family transferred 68.8% of its shares in Bertelsmann AG to the foundation, and the dividends from the shares used to fund the foundation's projects.

After withdrawing from office at Bertelsmann AG in 1991, Reinhard – who joined the family business in 1946 when it was a small publisher of religious texts, after returning from a World War II prisoner-of-war camp – dedicated himself full-time to the foundation, but last year handed over chairmanship to Bertelsmann CEO, Gunter Thielen. Today, wife Liz Mohn is vice-chair of the foundation, while daughter Brigitte is head of health issues.

4. Van Leer Group    €50.2m
Dutch industrialist Bernard Van Leer established this foundation in 1949 as an estate planning tool, to ensure the proceeds from the packaging company he founded would remain in family control beyond his death. After securing the agreement of his wife Polly and his sons Oscar and Wim, he arranged for the family's fortune to be bequeathed to the foundation, and in 1971 it was registered as a charitable foundation serving a variety of causes. After his father's death in 1958, Oscar took the reigns and re-shaped the mandate to focus on children under eight years of age "growing up in socially and economically difficult circumstances" – having seen research that claimed intervention up to this age range bore the most potent long-lasting benefits for child and society. The foundation is now one of the Netherlands' largest. Oscar died in 1996 leaving the foundation without a family representative, but the foundation is governed by a council mandated to do this.

This January, Bernard Van Leer was voted 'greatest philanthropist in Dutch history' by philanthropy journal FM Weekly. The key judging criteria was that donations should have been made "openly and transparently" – the touchstones of Oscar's legacy. The Van Leer Group Foundation holds the family's other philanthropic activities as well as its general investment portfolio and Crecor BV, a venture capital company that is the main source of income for the foundation.

5. Robert Bosch Foundation    €48.7m
Another example of the German view of foundations, the Robert Bosch Foundation is the majority owner of Robert Bosch GmbH, the well-known automotive and electronic parts manufacturer founded by… you guessed it, Robert Bosch.
The foundation's 92% shareholding funds the founder's mandate across public health and scientific research, and maintains the Robert Bosch Hospital, the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute for Clinical Pharmacology, and the Institute for the History of Medicine. It also promotes science in society, health and humanitarian aid, youth issues, education, and civic society projects across France, the U.S, Turkey, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The foundation makes grants to third-party projects as well as to its own initiatives.

Robert Bosch died in 1942 but the foundation was not established until 1964 – by his son, Robert Bosch der Jüngere - and today the Bosch family is represented on the board of trustees by Dr Christof Bosch, Mr der Jungere's son. Robert Bosch' daughter Eva Madelung and his widow Irmgard have been members of the curatorship of the foundation for many years, and a spokesperson for the family tells Families In Business that the whole family "are all still very interested in the foundation's work".

6. Gatsby Charitable Foundation    €32.4m
One of the UK's largest privately-endowed foundations, Gatsby hit the headlines recently when its trustees sold around half of its 5% stake in troubled grocery giant J Sainsbury – the family business from which founder Lord David, great-grandson of Sainsbury's founder John James, inherited the money he used to set Gatsby up. Press reports saw it as an indication that the family were ready to sell the company: the foundation said it sold in order to sustain its grant-making activities at current levels. This was underscored by the foundation's 2004 annual report which revealed that due to a government-backed withdrawal of recoverable tax credits on UK dividends, income from its share portfolio usually directed to grants had disappeared. Additionally, Sainsbury's share dividend was slashed by half from this January. The foundation can sustain itself on its "substantial" cash reserves in the short-term – but there is growing concern as to how so much lost revenue can be replaced. A raft of other Sainsbury family foundations have been launched and are governed by Gatsby, and involve around 18 family members. Lord David in particular has received recognition for his efforts, and in 2003 was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy. Gatsby has made donations to London's National Gallery (where there is a permanent painting wing named after the family) and set up The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia.

7. Avina Foundation    €26.8m
Hailing from the venerable Swiss-German business family that founded industrial conglomerate Holcim, and the founder of a similar business himself – Mexico's GrupoNueva – Stephan Schmidheiny founded AVINA in 1994 after sending a colleague to Latin America to research issues concerning the poor and how he could help. Her findings were that "there are too many poor for your money to do any good". He responded by setting up the foundation to work with leaders in civil society and in big business who could instigate change. Avina's mandate is focused on sustainable development, ("development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," according to the World Bank) and initiates a number of projects funded by the dividends from GrupoNueva. Last year Stephan handed over the reigns to deputy Brizio Biondi-Morra, although he remains active in his various projects.

8. Esmee Fairburn Foundation    €26.4m
Leading UK fund manager M&G was the financial catalyst behind this foundation. Ian Fairburn launched M&G in 1931, and set up the foundation 30 years later – named after his wife who was killed in the World War II air raids, and whose legacy included founding the Citizen's Advice Bureau and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. In 1999 the foundation sold its stake in M&G to insurance giant Prudential, bolstering the foundation's grant-making abilities from initially small grants for economic and financial education, to the arts, the support of British heritage, education, environmental programs and enterprise. The foundation says: "We like to consider work which others may find hard to fund, perhaps because it breaks new ground, appears too risky, requires core funding, or needs a more unusual form of financial help such as a loan. We also take initiatives ourselves where new thinking is required or where we believe there are important unexplored opportunities."

9. Sigrid Rausing trust    €10.3m
Ten years old this year, the third generation of Sweden's wealthy Rausing family Sigrid founded her philanthropic trust with £60m of her share in the family proceeds, after her father Hans sold half of Tetra Pak to his brother (it remains controlled by the family's holding company, however). She is a committed champion of women's and minority rights, democracy and human rights. "I discovered feminism at university – it seems to me an area of such fundamental importance that women need support," she explained of her motivation to The Guardian newspaper in a rare interview last year. " I grew up with refugees fleeing Chile, and the Vietnam War; the Holocaust made a profound impression on my mother." In 2005 Sigrid says the foundation aims to give £12.5m, and thereafter settle at annual donations totaling £15mn. Sister Lisbet set up her own philanthropic outfit focused on activities of "high scholarly, cultural, or social worth". Sigrid sits on the board.

10. Vaksa Foundation    €9.1m
Turkey's revered industrialist Sakip Sabanci was given an unprecedented state funeral when he died last year – not just because of his captivating rags-to-riches story, but because of the massive philanthropic contributions his family foundation has made to the country. The foundation is fully funded by family dividends from industrial juggernaut Sabanci's many companies, and in the beginning was helped by Sakip's mother Sadka, who donated her entire wealth to the initial fund. Today, some 17 family members contribute to the fund. Vaksa was created in 1974 with the mandate of assisting the Turkish government in its efforts to develop several social and cultural projects. It built Sabanci University in 1999 with a $170m endowment. The university houses Turkey's largest private library, while 70% of all students there are supported by scholarships funded by the foundation. Sakip's extensive Ottoman art collection is housed in his private residence on the banks of the Bosphorus. Sakip's passion for bringing Turkey to the world economic stage drives the foundation's mandate.

Click here >>