Last updated: 16.06.2021
Möbel Pfister has one, so do Ernst Göhner and Stephan Schmidheiny, Credit Suisse, Playmobil and the noble brand Cartier call them their own: a corporate foundation. What they have in common with other foundations is that they are earmarked special assets with their own legal personality. What makes them special is their organisational orientation towards a commercially oriented company.
Such corporate foundations pursue different purposes: securing long-term existence, protection against hostile takeovers, bridging succession problems or "good corporate citizenship", i.e. corporate charity (tax-exempt) for the benefit of the general public.
Classically, it is for cultural, scientific or social purposes. Economic purposes are also growing in popularity, for example the support of business start-ups or innovations - true to the conviction that flourishing business is the best social policy.
Alternatives to the foundation idea are patronage and sponsorship. The former sees itself as a respectable private hobby, offers maximum freedom in the choice of projects, but is financed from the private assets of the entrepreneur. Sponsoring commitments are oriented towards corporate goals, follow a cost-benefit calculation and have to be justified to the company itself, the employees and the shareholders. Both forms are more flexible than foundations that are committed to their purpose. Their advantage, however, is the transparency and reliability of the commitment.
Therefore, the more open a foundation's purpose, the greater the room for manoeuvre. Too narrow a regional or thematic fixation or a commitment that goes out of fashion quickly become a problem. The Windler Foundation is a conspicuous exception to the rule. It has dedicated itself to the preservation of the townscape of Stein am Rhein and can devote more resources to this than the chief financial officer of the spruced-up little town - the result speaks for itself.
Whether a corporate foundation is ultimately the right instrument depends on the legal requirements, the economic possibilities - sufficient foundation capital, a profitable investment of assets in the interest of the long term and sufficient working time in the foundation - a uniqueness and distinctiveness in terms of content and foundation boards that pursue the foundation's purpose in a competent and motivated manner.
Prof. Dr Stefan Gürtler
Lecturer for Communication
University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland
University of Applied Sciences