Research program

The research activities of the CEPS contribute to the growth of knowledge about the following general topics.

1. Philanthropy and Social Capital

In the Anglo-American understanding the term philanthropy means private actions for the common good. The term covers manifold actions and fields of activities: from a non-recurring donation via voluntary engagement to the establishment of a foundation.

The CEPS deals with all kinds of philanthropy and analyzes its nature within a social context. In particular, we want to analyze and record  the social benefit of philanthropy. The theoretical background of our research in this field is the concept of social capital.

Social capital includes social networks, norms and trust. With the help of social capital, collective social aims can be achieved in a better way. Philanthropic activities are, in most instances, investments in social capital. This means that beneficiary foundations

  • enhance cooperation, knowledge accumulation, understanding and social development
  • provide know-how, contacts, opportunities for interaction and financial resources

2. Governance and the Legitimacy of Foundations

Foundations are the expression of private and charitable engagements, and are therefore important elements of civil society and act as bridge-builders between private activities and governmental programs. Foundations are in a unique legal position, characterized by their independence from the influence of others. Specific requirements come along with this exceptional position. On the one hand, foundations are under federal supervision. On the other hand, internal supervision and control mechanisms are hardly regulated. The Swiss Foundation Code and the Swiss NPO-Code provide foundations with two useful advanced fundamentals for improved governance in foundations.

The CEPS will provide interdisciplinary articles about the application and the implementation of governance as well as the impact of governance on the management of the foundation. The CEPS aims for jurisprudential and sociological analyses. For example, the foundation’s deed is the legitimacy of every foundation and could be viewed within a social framework.

Another deficit in research is the missing data regarding the foundation sector. There is a general lack of data on foundations in Switzerland as well as their central organizational indicators such as employees, budgets, projects etc. This gap shall be closed with the research of our institute.

3. Foundations – Strategies, Performance and Potentials

The activities of a foundation are determined by its mission. Through the implementation of this requirement, the foundation board is confronted with far-reaching decision making problems. Due to the lack of standardized indicators, the determination of strategies as well as the measurement of project impact and sustainability is difficult.

Furthermore, beneficiary foundations often depend on intermediaries during the implementation process. Therefore, quality management of project performance depends on more than the foundation alone.

The focus of research in this field is based on the question of how foundations can efficiently manage the process of acquisition, selection, supervision and evaluation of applications. Another important question is how foundations can measure and display the success of their activities. Both questions are joined to analyze successful promotional strategies. These strategies shall be recorded with the help of case studies and qualitative-empirical instruments. Additionally, there is a lack of theoretical background about foundation management. The primary focus of our scientific analysis is the beneficiary foundation. Other types of foundations and nonprofit organizations shall be considered at a later point in time.

In particular, there is a lack of surveys in the field of strategic management, general management, leadership, financial management and asset management. Moreover, the influence of foundation size on the management potential has yet to be analyzed.

4. Corporate Citizenship

Since concepts like Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Citizenship have become more popular, the importance of organizations as sponsors and partners of civil society has risen considerably. However, there is often a significant gap between the practical implementation of a model and its respective underlying theory. The CEPS wants to examine and analyze the philanthropic contributions of corporations by looking at how corporate citizenship and profit orientation can strategically be combined to create added value for both the corporations and the non-profit organizations.

Another area being examined by the CEPS, within the field of corporate commitment, are hybrid organizations such as Social Business, Venture Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship. While these business forms emerged and developed through practical application, it is of particular interest to analyze how charitable and economic purposes are reconciled, and how these conclusions can be applied to other types of NPOs.


Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS)
University of Basel
Steinengraben 22
4051 Basel

Phone: +41 61 207 23 92

Fax: +41 61 207 23 93