36 | Eect spring 2009 © European Foundation Centre | www.efc.


Looking beyond the state:
Norway’s foundation landscape
by Nyegosh Dube, EFC
With its dramatic fjords, wealth of natural resources, and tradition of political autonomy,
Norway is a truly distinctive corner of Europe. Yet, like its Nordic neighbours, it is an
advanced welfare state, and has a foundation sector that shares a similar environment and
similar characteristics to those in other Nordic countries. While the Norwegian sector is
for historical reasons somewhat smaller and less inßuential, since the year 2000 there have
been some signiñcant developments in Norway's foundation landscape.
The starting point for any discussion of
Norwegian foundations must be the
welfare state and the very large role of
the public sector since 1945, developed
under governments often led by the
Labour Party, the country’s largest
party for the past eight decades. Many
people in Norway have had a suspicious
attitude towards private philanthropy.
“It’s not seen as a part of the democratic
processes of society”, says Erik Rudeng,
director of the Institusjonen Fritt Ord
(Freedom of Expression Foundation).
Erling Valvik, director of the Cultiva
Foundation, agrees: “The prevailing
view has been that the philanthropic
system is undemocratic compared to the
political system that allocates money in
a democratic way, and that it is not right
that the nation’s wealth should be built
on rich people’s goodness.”
This is one reason why foundations have
had a fairly marginal role in Norwegian
society, according to a report by Hakon
Lorentzen (see Sources). Norway has
fewer and smaller foundations when
compared to Denmark or Sweden,
where historically there was greater
concentration of capital and a larger
and wealthier group of capitalists.
Lorentzen’s report, published in 2004,
gives a total of around 3000 grantmaking
foundations in Norway, but the vast
majority (97%) are too small to have their
own managements and are run mainly
by law oces. At the same time, Norway
has a large, well-organised sector of
NGOs (many subsidised by the state), and
a strong tradition of volunteering.
Funding people’s aspirations
So, what role do foundations play in
Norway? “The welfare state plays a big
role,” acknowledges Rudeng, “but it’s
unthinkable that the state can nance
all the aspirations of people. The tasks
to be done are endless, there are
always some uncovered needs. And,
besides, foundations can act quickly
and independently.” We can get some
idea of Norwegian foundation activities
by looking at the four current EFC
members from Norway: Cultiva, Fritt
Ord, Sørlandets Kompetansefond, and
the DnB NOR Savings Bank Foundation.
Their elds of activity include arts,
culture, children’s activities, heritage
protection, recreation, freedom of
expression, public debate, education,
and improving job qualications.
A tool for autonomy and
community goals
Since the 1980s, there has been a trend
in Norway towards converting certain
state and collective institutions, or
parts of them, into foundations. The
aim is either to increase autonomy
from political control – for example in
relation to research institutions and
museums, or to retain a public benet
element after privatisation – such as
in the case of cooperatives, municipal
enterprises and savings banks. When the
DnB NOR Savings Bank was privatised,
part of its capital was used to establish
a foundation, which in turn is the largest
private shareholder of the bank (with an
11% stake). While far less prevalent than in
Denmark, foundation ownership (at least
partial) of companies is not uncommon
in Norway. Cultiva was set up as a sort of
community foundation with funds raised
from the privatisation of a local energy
The shift from public sector to foundation
status has not always been without
controversy. In certain cases, there
has been a clash between continued
dependence on public funding and
the need for autonomy of these new
foundations. Valvik notes that some
political groupings felt it was wrong
to give up public control over these
institutions. When a serious problem
arose after the national museum
system was turned into a foundation,
the state was accused of evading its
responsibilities. As Rudeng explains: “you
can’t just establish a foundation and say
it’s independent if it’s still to a very high
degree dependent on state money”.
De k, f ndatio hi (at le t
Erik Rudeng, Director of the Freedom
of Expression Foundation
(Institusjonen Fritt Ord).
37 | Eect spring 2009 © European Foundation Centre | www.efc.be

A force for creativity and
Nowadays there is growing acceptance
by politicians and the public in Norway of
foundations and private philanthropy. The
ministry of culture has been particularly
supportive. “If wealthy people want to
put their money into health or culture or
set up special institutes at universities,
now even the Labour Party welcomes
it,” observes Valvik. He adds that a lot
of philanthropic activity is aimed at
stimulating creativity and innovation.
His own foundation, Cultiva, focuses on
developing the “creative economy” in
the town of Kristiansand.
In a somewhat similar vein, Rudeng sees
foundations as institutions that are well-
placed to support alternative cultural
projects and controversial productions,
and represent minority voices and the
underprivileged. His Fritt Ord foundation
promotes freedom of expression and
public debate at home and abroad.
To those who believe foundations are
undemocratic, he responds: “If you
want an open, democratic society, then
you also need pluralist nancing, so
that you’re not completely dependent
on the state. In a welfare state, there is
always the danger of certain ideologies
and bureaucratic structures becoming
too dominant, hence pluralism is very
Developing a stronger
As in Denmark and Sweden, foundations
in Norway have tended to follow a
cautious approach in relation to the
promotion and prole of the foundation
sector as a whole. Rudeng attributes this
to the strength of social democracy and
an “extremely dynamic” state sector. The
result has been a weak and fragmented
foundation sector. But things began to
change in 2000 with the emergence of
several bigger foundations, including
the four foundations mentioned here.
(Fritt Ord was founded in 1974 but grew
signicantly in 2000 after selling o its
shares in a media distribution company.)
An important change was the adoption in
2001 of a new law on foundations, which
led to the setting up in 2005 of a central
supervisory authority and a central
registry. “So we’re beginning to develop
an infrastructure for foundations,” says
Rudeng. He notes, however, that the tax
system is only modestly supportive of
philanthropy, with a deduction available
for donations of up to around €1500 per
In 2003 a national association of
foundations was established and now has
around 70 members. Rudeng considers
it essential that Norwegian foundations
“come together, exchange experiences,
debate policies and codes of practice”.
And since only larger foundations are
able to join the EFC, Valvik believes “the
national association is an important
forum where bigger foundations can
inform and help smaller ones”.
A positive climate, a potential
for more
Generally speaking, Valvik feels the legal
environment is satisfactory and that
the government takes a positive view
of foundations, even if it thinks an eye
should be kept on them since there are
always a few bad apples. Rudeng echoes
this view: “In general the climate is
positive, and people increasingly realise
the state can’t do all things for all people.”
But he wants Norwegian foundations to
do more in the coming years: “I’d like to
see foundations taking initiatives and
supporting initiatives which are seen as
unexpected, interesting experiments.
They have to utilise their inherent
freedom and explore their capacity for
independent action.”
Hakon Lorentzen, “Philanthropy
and Collectivism: Grantgiving
foundations in Norway”, Institute for
Social Research, 2004
The Norwegian association of
Norway’s House of Literature was opened in 2007, as an initiative of The Freedom of Expression
Foundation (Institusjonen Fritt Ord). It aims to promote interest in literature and reading, and is
owned by The House of Literature Foundation.