Nonprofit Management & Philanthropy

Coordinator: Elisa Ricciuti


In a world where inequalities are rising and welfare systems face unprecedented challenges, the vast array of organizations representing private initiative and civil society are increasingly involved in responding to pressing social needs together with public and business organizations.

Foundations, social enterprises, NGOs, voluntary organizations, associations, cooperatives, as well as individuals through giving and volunteering, are all part of that sector which is - now more than ever - a fundamental player of welfare systems globally. By using private creativity and entrepreneurship to the pursuit of public goods, third sector organizations are often drivers of social innovation processes.

On the one hand, evidence shows that philanthropy is booming globally and social impact is becoming an investing mantra; on the other, third sector organizations are growing in numbers, variety and roles. This evolving scenario makes the need of professionalization of both sides – donors and recipients – pressing, challenging and intriguing much more than in the past.

In this fast-changing context, the Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy area develops research at the national and international level with the objective of contributing to the improvement of the overall performance of welfare systems.


The main strands of research area are:

  • Change management and innovation processes in the nonprofit sector.

Third sector organizations are the backbone of civic culture and engagement, social capital, entrepreneurship and activism: they help developing the infrastructure of our civil societies. Also, third sector organizations represent a relevant part of countries’ economies globally – around 2.5% of the GDP in Italy, over 6% and 7% in the US and UK and constantly increasing in emerging economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fostering third sector organizations’ capacity to respond to our societies’ new challenges is then a primary need. With this strand of research, we respond to third sector organizations’ needs of innovation in management and governance in search of a nobler response to the needs of their stakeholders.

  • Philanthropy and giving.

As reported at the 2017 World Economic Forum, we live in a world where the 8 richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion (50% of world population). Despite undoubtable technological developments leading to improvements in different fields, inequalities are still tremendously growing in others. In this context, philanthropy face an unprecedented increase in almost all regions of the world: whether in an institutional form (foundations) or not, individual, family and corporate donations are growing sensibly. With this strand of research, we explore philanthropists and foundations’ investment decisions and strategies, responding to the governance and management needs of philanthropic initiatives.

  • Social Impact.

Whether for the need of facing constraints in resources’ availability, the demand of better decision-making, the pressure from empowered stakeholders or several other reasons, demonstrating the impact of social investments has become a mantra nowadays. This is true for donors, for recipient organizations and for public institutions – even if social impact investments are still limited in numbers and size in many countries. Evidence shows that social impact assessment is a field highly contested, starting from the meaning of impact or the measures to be used. With this strand of research, we explore and apply concepts and methods of social impact evaluation to the results of philanthropic initiatives on the side of both donors and recipient organizations, responding to the need of private organizations to understand, manage and communicate the results and spillovers of their social engagement, activities and investments.

  • Social Innovation.

The concept of social innovation has recently entered the policy agenda and debate with an unprecedented strength and, at the same time, an unprecedented need to be defined, mapped and understood in both the policy and research contexts. Evidence shows that the opportunity to develop effective social innovations has both barriers and drivers in the public and private initiative to support the challenges of our welfare systems. Together with the Social Policy and Service Management area, we explore social innovation initiatives in different sectors, with a view to scaling good practices of social innovation and improving the overall response of welfare systems to the current needs and future trends impacting our societies.


Selected research projects:

  • Powering social innovations: the role of Italian foundations in facilitating social innovation - the grantees’ perspective.
    A 6 months research project dedicated to exploring the perception of recipients of social innovation grants in Italy – the concepts, the barriers to funding, the relationship with donors. Funded by the Italian Research on Philanthropy Award (IRPA).
  • The Impact of Third Sector as Social Innovation (ITSSOIN)  http://itssoin.eu .
    A 3 year-research project investigating social innovation experiences in different sectors of welfare systems across Europe. Funded by the European Union (FP7).
  • The evaluation of the economic and social impact of AVIS (the Italian largest blood donors’ agency). A 18 months-research project dedicated to measure the impact of blood donations on the health and social experience of blood donors. Funded by AVIS (National).

  • FoodSaving: At the crossroads of social innovation.
    A 18 months-research project dedicated to mapping social innovative case studies in the recovery, management and redistribution of food surplus across four European regions. Funded by Lombardy Region and Cariplo Foundation.