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Facts and Figures

Foundations and philanthropists: Facts and figures for journalists


Old, rich and eccentric? This is the cliché that springs to mind for many people when they think of a philanthropist. But the reality looks completely different, as the Bertelsmann Stiftung discovered in a comprehensive empirical study concluded in April 2005.

Over 650 donors participated in the study (629 filled out questionnaires, and 22 gave detailed interviews). That represents more than half of the people who have launched a foundation in the last 15 years. The study brought a number of noteworthy facts to light:

  • Almost 40 percent of philanthropists are under the age of 60.
  • Most philanthropists are wealthy, but not all: one in five foundations has total assets of less than €250,000.
  • Many foundations start out with comparatively little capital: 43 percent have initial endowments of less than €100,000.
  • These days, foundations operate as very down-to-earth businesses; donors want to make a difference here and now. Very few merely wish to create a monument to themselves; indeed, more than 40 percent of foundations don’t bear their founder’s name.
  • Philanthropists tend to be well-educated, religious and childless; 36 percent have a university degree, two-thirds describe themselves as religious, and 42 percent have no direct heirs.
  • The public regards foundations and philanthropists with reserve and skepticism: almost one-third of Germans (falsely) believe that foundations serve primarily as a tax shelter. Only 40 percent believe that foundations operate more efficiently than the government.
  • Each foundation is as unique as its founder: behind each foundation lies a very personal story worth telling.

These and many other facts about foundations and philanthropists were documented in the Stifter Studie (Philanthropist Study) and recently published in full as a book. In this way, the Bertelsmann Stiftung wishes to lay to rest widespread prejudices and give the public factual information about philanthropists and their motives.

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