Research project

Positioning and contribution of philanthropic foundations in Germany

Although the number of philanthropic organisations has declined over the last two years, it is still higher than at any time during the entire 20th century. Public perception of foundations is on the rise and reform efforts have continually been improving the legal conditions for philanthropy as well as the transparency of German foundations. However, there is no well-grounded data concerning German foundations. The research project Positioning and contribution of philanthropic foundations in Germany seeks to bridge this gap. The project aims to show what role and position philanthropic foundations have in German society and how they shape it.

A cooperation between the Centre for Social Investment at Heidelberg University and Hertie School.

More about the project

The German foundation sector has, without a doubt, gained a great deal of importance over the last 20 years. Today it consists of more than 19,000 foundations. Based on this number as well as the number of bound assets, the German foundation sector is considered the world’s second largest (after that in the US).

By taking a closer look at the fields of education, science and research, social welfare and arts and culture, we seek to examine how German foundations work and what their impact is. The topics of integration, advocacy and the internationality of foundations in particular are to be considered cross-sectional issues.

The dissemination agenda encompasses an edited volume as well as policy briefings.


Research agenda

Phase I

  • Preparation of a comprehensive statistical database of the German foundation sector
  • Preparation of a purposive sample of most relevant German foundations

Phase II

Own data collection via:

  • A representative survey of 1,000 foundations
  • Expert interviews with foundation managers
  • Vignette analysis and selected case studies

Research objectives

The project answers to the following research questions:

  • What are the societal roles of foundations?
  • What is the positioning of foundations relative to state, market, and civil society?
  • What are the contributions of foundations to society?

Presentation of project results

The presentation of the project results (by Helmut K. Anheier, past President of the Hertie School and Scientific Director of the Centre for Social Investment at Heidelberg University) took place 19 April 2016.


Project launch

September 2013



The project is funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Hertie Foundation, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Stiftung Mercator, and the Volkswagen Foundation.


Project lead

Faculty and researchers

  • Sarah Förster, Doctoral Programme in Governance

  • Janina Mangold, Doctoral Programme in Governance