Why unions can make effective philanthropic support organisations: the example of France Générosités.

By Laurence Lepetit, Chief Executive Officer, France générosités

France générosités was established in 1998 at the initiative of non-profit organizations and foundations, such as Fondation de France, the Red Cross, Greenpeace, Caritas, and Pasteur Institute to promote and develop charitable giving in France. Today this union comprises of over 100 of the main French non-profits and foundations. In 2019, the combined annual income of our members was €7.7 billion, of which €2.1 billion came from private donations. Half of them rely on it for over 80% of their income. 

Advocacy and independence were at the heart of France générosités’ creation and the choice of the union model was a strong statement in this respect by the founding members

We are tasked with typical union missions such as advocacy, monitoring relevant legislation, legal and fiscal guidance, and data collection. We run a bi-annual survey and a yearly thematic analysis to gain a closer insight into charitable donations in France and analyze the potential of new ways of giving. We lead programmes to promote philanthropy to the general public, like our yearly campaign to foster youth giving  “Vos dons agissent”.

Philanthropy in the French context

In 2015, the latest year for which global figures are available, total giving in France was €7.5 billion: 4.5 from individual donors (1 billion in bequest) and 3 billion from corporate donors [1]. Tax incentives to encourage giving in France are allegedly among the most generous in Europe for both individual and corporate giving. However, our regulatory framework is also one of the most challenging and recent reforms by the current French administration have shown their will to reduce tax incentives on both individual and corporate donations drastically. Consequently, the Union had to build a stronger defensive advocacy position and reflect on the model of philanthropy we wanted to champion. 

Representing philanthropy globally

France générosités represents every organization which applies for public generosity and raises at least 250,000 annually, regardless of their cause (education, health, environment), status (NGO, charity, foundation) or model (fundraising/operating bodies). This is quite unique in France where support organizations tend to represent a specific category (corporate foundations, private foundations, charities) and it allows us to take a broad view of philanthropy and to defend it beyond specific interests. This has been a strong asset in recent negotiations in which officials have tended to a divide and rule approach to different networks to undermine the position of philanthropy overall (2019 reform on corporate donation for example). 

The trust of  public officials and media 

As a union, France Générosités is well-positioned as a key and credible mouthpiece for philanthropy with official representatives and the media. All of France Générosités’ legislative proposals are acknowledged and given due credit by supportive parliamentarians and while supporting non-profits is easy to publicly assume, yet it is also a sign of strong confidence in the representativeness of the union. 

Strong member affiliation 

Mobilizing members’ expertise is the main challenge of support organizations, especially in the non-profit sector where staff tend to be overloaded. However, being a union gives our members’ staff stronger affiliations. We have a high participation rate in working groups that conduct in-depth analysis of issues of concern to the sector and which provide the basis for our advocacy work. We work on a peer-learning model where experts of members’ organisations both benefit from, and contribute to, with the highest sense of responsibility and collective achievement. However, we must admit that experts from legal and fundraising positions are easier to mobilize than their governing bodies, and appealing to these effectively still remains a stiff challenge. 

Financial independence 

As a union, we are the only representative body funded to the extent of 80% by its members. Subscriptions are based on every member organisation’s yearly fundraising amount, for an overall budget of €1 million and eight staff members. This independence is cherished by our members and contributes to their strong sense of affiliation as well as to the confidence of public officials. This model allows us to be fully inclusive as all our services (publications, programmes, and campaigns) are included in the membership fee and therefore equally accessible for all members. 

Our greatest challenge: the place of charitable giving in our democracy. 

We have been working passionately these past two years to go beyond fiscal issues and underline the place of charitable giving in the French social contract. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that non-profits and foundations are key players in today’s social and socially responsible economy.  With the next presidential elections in 2022 in mind, we are reinforcing cooperation with representative bodies, in France and abroad, to build a stronger case for the promotion of civil society and charitable giving as a key element of a democratic and sustainable society. 

[1] Panorama de la générosité, Observatoire de la Philanthropie de la Fondation de France, 2018.

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By  Laurence Lepetit, Chief Executive Officer, France générosités

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