To read this content please select one of the options below:

What Drives Good Philanthropy? The Relationship Between Governance and Strategy in Foundations

Mechanisms, Roles and Consequences of Governance: Emerging Issues

ISBN: 978-1-78350-705-4, eISBN: 978-1-78350-706-1

Publication date: 19 July 2014



This paper examines the role that effective governance plays in driving the strategies of grant-giving foundations as it relates to supporting various types of charitable and philanthropy activities of public interest. Today, foundations are more than ever active as pivotal element of the so called ‘private welfare state’ all around Europe and the United States. While other forms of organizations involved in philanthropy and public welfare face competition (i.e. corporations), budget constrain (i.e. governments) or fundraising imperatives (i.e. NGOs), private foundations do not feel such a pressure and can, therefore, tackle social issues that other organizations may not. Despite this privileged position, the role of governance in such non-profit organizations is far from certain. Prior literature review shows the lack of empirical analysis related to the role of governance in foundations as they attempt to shape various projects of strong public interest.


Given foundations’ unique societal role and obligations and the fiscal advantages enjoyed by them, the objective of this study is to explore the factors that drive their decision-making and resource allocation process and to examine the efficacy of their financial and non-financial resource allocation decisions. Using the data collected from 112 large Italian foundations, this paper studies the relationship between the governance mechanism and philanthropic strategies of private foundations.


The significance of the study is based on the fact that in the non-profit sector, more than in the for-profit one, board members are called to play a strong advisory role at the top of their traditional monitoring role. In other words, active boards are expected to screen relevant public needs and to properly invest foundations’ resources in meritorious projects; while inert boards risks to pursuit private goals, camouflaged as public interest, and to dissipate resources by unconditionally financing unrelated grant requests.


This paper aims to empirically examine if and how different governance attributes associate with different philanthropic strategies. The choice of Italian foundations represents an ideal research environment considering the strong reduction of governmental social spending due to the financial crisis and the simultaneous increase in the social relevance of private foundations to support social causes of significance.




This research was funded by University of Padova ‘Progetti di Ateneo’; Foundation Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo & Foundation Cassa di Risparmio di Modena ‘Progetti di Ricerca sulle Fondazioni’; Foundation Antonveneta.


Boesso, G., Cerbioni, F. and Kumar, K. (2014), "What Drives Good Philanthropy? The Relationship Between Governance and Strategy in Foundations", Mechanisms, Roles and Consequences of Governance: Emerging Issues (Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance, Vol. 2), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 159-180.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014 Emerald Group Publishing Limited