At 12,715, there are more Swiss foundations than ever before, according to the annual report by Zurich and Basel universities and the umbrella group Swiss Foundations. The organisations have combined funds of SFr70 billion ($74 billion).
The figure is based on recently collected information from the cantonal authorities and is much higher than previous estimates. In 2010, total funds were put at SFr50 billion.
On average each non-profit foundation possesses SFr6.2 million but in reality most foundations are more modest in size and the mean is pushed up by the large foundations.
Many foundations only work with the revenue on their capital and 2011 turned out to be a good year in terms of return on investments, although the report pointed out that the risk profile of the investments was often relatively high.
In the quest for alternatives to just preserving capital and interest-oriented asset management, there is growing discussion about new approaches such as mission-related or impact investment, the report said.
Apart from the trend towards professional involvement in running foundations, there is also a debate taking place about rewarding board members for their work, which is traditionally voluntary. The work contributed by Swiss foundation board members is said to be equivalent to 80,000 full-time jobs.
There is no comprehensive register of foundations and reliable information on the sector in Switzerland is lacking. The report authors were critical of the level of financial surveillance.
Switzerland is one of Europe’s leading locations for foundations in terms of number and budget. Private donations to Swiss Foundations amount to some SFr1.3 billion a year and the charities hand out SFr1-SFr2 billion a year.