6. An analysis of the new era of non-profit corporations. Comparative aspects.
The new era of non-profit organizations began in Italy almost ten years ago, and it is now much richer in both senses than before. For this reason it has become closer to the North-American model, even though the two systems still remain different.
The aspect common to the Italian and American non-profit world consists of the mixed types of organizations belonging to the same non--profit sector. In the U.S.A., non-profit organizations are: associations, chamber of commerce, charities, churches, clubs, condominiums, foundations, fraternal orders, hospitals, labor unions, museums, schools and colleges, social services organizations, societies and so on.
In the same way, in Italy there still exists a great variety of organizations classified under the non-profit sector: political parties, trade unions, churches, foundations, hospitals managed by religious orders, communities caring for drug addicts, museums, volunteer groups, professional centres .
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7. The enlightening example of cultural foundations.
The cultural foundation sector gives us important elements necessary for understanding both the growth of the non-profit world, as well as the differences between the American and Italian systems.
The richness of the U.S.A. reality as regards foundations, and the poverty of the European reality, especially in Italy, have different explanations:
a) the different stages of economic growth (America is rich, Italy is not; America is Protestant, Italy is Catholic);
b) a fiscal policy firmly directed toward supporting the growth of cultural foundations, in America; on the contrary, a suspicious and rough Italian fiscal policy;
c) a very weak system of controls, that increases abuses in North- America; in Italy, a stifling regime of controls that operates as a strong deterrent to the employment of economic resources.
But things have changed in Italy over the past ten years. We can point out two unequivocal phenomena:
a) the large number of foundations created in different social areas, such as art and culture;
b) the new trend that gives preference to the juridical asset of a foundation in order to promote different economic enterprises (the most famous examples are bank foundations and integrating social security. Even in the area of opera there is a proposal to introduce separation between the theatre as foundation, on one side, and a stock company dealing mainly with entrepreneurial assets, on the other).
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8. The "non-profit world": different kind of non-profit organizations.
It is not easy, in Italy, to provide for an autonomous juridical category of non-profit organizations, as there are very different types of associations belonging to the non-profit world. We should remember that, in Italy, an autonomous category of non-profit organizations, like the one recognized in the U.S.A., was not welcomed with enthusiasm. There are three principal oblections:
i) first, it is emphasized that this category derives from an interpretative effort, but does not exist either in the civil code or in any other statute;
ii) second, the absolute non distribution constraint, not even permitted to those who represent the association, has been strictly criticized by those scholars who would have preferred to separate different types of non-profit organizations;
iii) third, it has been suggested that it would be better to point out the differences among the non-profits, rather than underline the common aspects within the same category.
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What should be kept in mind is that the non-profit is a neutral category: "non-profit organization" simply stands for an association where there is a strict non-distribution constraint, both during the organism's activity and during its winding-up.
At any rate, the non-profit world is made of different structures and has different targets.
For example: there has been and there continues to be a lively discussion in Italy, ending in the distinction of two types of banking foundations (fondazioni bancarie). The first recognizes the central task of an institutional investor; the second recognizes a centre of cultural promotion, very similar to the large American foundations. But these two types of foundations are very different, and it wouId be very difficult to accept both within the same category .
Furthermore, there exist in our system non-profit organizations that belong to the social organizations of art. 2 of our constitution, because they pursue an aim of responsibility and solidarism, like family associations.
At the same time, there are non-profit organizations producing services or goods: for example, social co-operative corporations clearly answer to the negative results of market failure.
A last category is represented by organisms that pursue collateral public aims, such as banking foundations.
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