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Story by Swiss Solidarity September 29th, 2016

“Y’a du bonheur pour tout le monde” – There is happiness for everyone! Swiss Solidarity’s story began in 1946 in Lausanne with a song, the need to do something to ease the suffering caused by the Second World War and a large dose of enthusiasm. Radio broadcaster Roger Nordmann and entertainer Jack Rollan were the founding fathers of our 70-year-old success story.

The first appeal they launched on 26 September 1946 via Radio Sottens (now Radio Télé Suisse RTS) was to help children damaged by the war. They had soon set up their own radio programme, the “Chaîne de Bonheur” or “Chain of Happiness” – named after the fact that the person who was best able to realise another’s wish could propose the next good deed. Initially the programme collected donations in kind, and was overrun with packages and relief supplies.

From radio programme to sponsor
Nowadays the organisation accepts donated money rather than items. The money raised goes towards aid projects run by our 25 partner relief organisations. A large number of the projects involve reconstruction following earthquakes, tornadoes or other natural catastrophes. But we also frequently raise money for the victims of war and conflict, and to help children in need.

We also help disadvantaged people in Switzerland who either find themselves in difficult financial circumstances or whose property and belongings have been destroyed in a natural disaster.


Switzerland shows solidarity

The original idea of showing solidarity with the victims of disasters, either in Switzerland or abroad, still motivates us today. Along with our partner the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR), over the past 70 years we have launched via radio and television around 190 appeals for donations for the victims of natural disasters and conflicts. Each appeal triggers a huge wave of solidarity throughout Switzerland, especially on national fundraising days.

We can only show this strong solidarity in Switzerland with the generous support of the public, the strong partnerships with the SRG SSR, Swisscom, private radios, the media and of course our operational partners, the relief organisations.

Our founders were primarily radio broadcasters with large hearts. Today we are the biggest private donor to humanitarian relief organisations in Switzerland. For over 30 years we have been a private foundation and the humanitarian wing of the SRG SSR.


International “Chain of Happiness”

After the Chain of Happiness was launched in 1946 in Lausanne, it was not only adopted in 1948 by Radio Beromünster in German-speaking Switzerland and Radio Monte in Italian-speaking Switzerland, the chain letter also led to the creation of an international programme. On 23 December 1948 this programme collected donations for war-damaged children.

In addition to the three Swiss radio stations, radio stations in Paris, Triest, Vienna, Montecarlo and the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden joined the campaign.

In 1948 there were even negotiations with American representatives for an intercontinental “Chain of Happiness”.

Emergency Appeals Alliance
Up until 1968 several fundraising campaigns were run by the international Chain of Happiness. In 1949 the international appeals reached approximately 250 million listeners. From 1968 onwards we functioned and raised funds on our own for several decades, until 2008 when we once again joined other organisations similar to Swiss Solidarity in their structure and the way they function. These are nine organisations in Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Japan, Canada, Sweden and Austria.

The objective of these partnerships is to share experiences and insights from national and joint fundraising appeals and to gain more negotiating power collectively.


The humanitarian arm of the SRG SSR

The Chain of Happiness – now Swiss Solidarity – was founded by a journalist and entertainer at Lausanne’s radio station (Radio Sottens). In the beginning we were radio programme and fundraising platform in one. From 1954 onwards the weekly programmes were discontinued and to this day we only raise funds when catastrophes occur or circumstances demand it.

A child of the SRG SSR
For 37 years we were part of SRG SSR. Over time there were more and more appeals and collaboration with our partner relief organisations became more complex. Professional structures were required in order to keep up with the changes. This was also recognised by the former SRG SSR director-general Leo Schürmann, who made Swiss Solidarity independent in 1983. We have been an independent foundation for 33 years, but are still closely linked to the SRG SSR, acting, so to speak, as its humanitarian arm.

On a fundraising day, radio and TV SRF, RTS, RSI and RTR put most of their programmes at the service of Swiss Solidarity. Swiss TV stations also participate in the appeal and report on the specific catastrophe, the fundraising centres and the current donation amount.


SRG SSR and Swiss Solidarity today
How close the connection of SRG and Swiss Solidarity is today may be seen by looking at the governing bodies. Our president Ladina Heimgartner is also director of RTR and six of the twelve members on the foundation board are SRG SSR representatives.

Even though the weekly Swiss Solidarity programme was terminated in 1954, it is still broadcast regularly on the radio.

The voices of Swiss Solidarity
For many years the programme “Glückskette Aktuell” was an integral part of the SRF1 listeners’ Sunday. First Roland Jeanneret and then Ladina Spiess, the voice of Swiss Solidarity in German-speaking Switzerland, reported on the use of the donations and directly from the affected areas.

At the beginning of June 2015 the weekly programme was replaced by several “Doppelpunkt”, a culturaland political 45 minute programme, broadcast throughout the year.

Jean-Marc Richard, the voice of Swiss Solidarity in French-speaking Switzerland, reports regularly about us and our work in his programmes. Claudia Cathomen and Carla Norghauer do the same for RTR and RSI respectively.


Support from private media

In addition to our close connection to SRG SSR, we foster close relationships with the private media. Some of them strongly support us in our fundraising appeals. In German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland several private radios support Swiss Solidarity on fundraising days.

A further important aspect is what the media choose to focus on. A crisis or disaster that doesn’t get reported in the media raises little interest. So we are dependent on media coverage about a catastrophe, the victims and the impact on their lives.

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Criticism as motivation

Swiss Solidarity generally enjoys a very good reputation in the media. They often report on fundraising days, which has helped us to become so well known.

But the media also regularly take a close and critical look at our work. What was probably the strongest media criticism received so far came shortly after the step into independence, when in 1984 “L’Hebdo”, a French-speaking weekly newspaper, featured the headline: “Où va l’argent de la Chaîne du Bonheur?” – where does the donated money go?

A time of change
As part of the SRG SSR until 1983, we informed donors of what happened to their donations via radio and TV programmes. We published our first official annual report in 1983.

The huge criticism of the leadership of the organisation, even if regarded internally as unjustified, hit us at a time of change. New structures were created in the newly independent organisation and a new team took over leadership of Swiss Solidarity.

Transparency as a core value
Today we account for each co-financed project. The donors entrust us with their money and expect us to use it effectively and efficiently for the benefit of the people in need whom they donated it for. So we routinely provide information on how the donations are used via our internet site, the annual report, our e-newsletter and on Facebook and Twitter.

Name and logo, then and now

It was a chain letter that led to the idea of the “Chain of Happiness”. The chain letter may have landed in the rubbish bin, but the idea was adapted for the radio: the person who was best able to realise another’s wish could propose the next good deed. It was to become a chain of happiness that never got broken.

Our way of working has changed over the past 70 years and has adapted to modern humanitarian aid. Whereas we initially worked with two and shortly thereafter four operational partners, and at one point the number rose to 30. Today we work with 25 partner relief organisations.

That’s why the original logo showed two interwoven links in a chain.

The chain becomes Swiss Solidarity
The new logo preserves the idea of links of a chain and illustrates “Swiss Solidarity” with two intertwined letters ‘s’. And that’s how we view ourselves today. Because the unique wave of solidarity with the victims of catastrophes that seizes the Swiss population on national fundraising days is exceptional, and has defined us since our beginnings.


Swiss Solidarity’s operational partnerS

In order to bring the donations in kind to people in need, the “Chain of Happiness” necessarily needed humanitarian partners – after all, a radio station is not an aid organisation. The Swiss Red Cross was a partner from the start and soon HEKS, Caritas and somewhat later the Schweizerische Arbeiterhilfswerk (today Solidar Suisse) came on board.

Between 1946 and 1982 the donations were divided up as follows: Swiss Red Cross, Caritas and HEKS each received 25%, the Schweizerische Arbeiterhilfswerk received 10% and the remaining 15% went to various other relief organisations.

When the foundation became independent more partners joined, and at one point there were over 30. Today we have 25 partner relief organisations. The way in which the money is distributed has also greatly changed. All relief organisations have to submit an application for each project, which is assessed and analysed by the project department and commission.


A knack for finances?

When we launch a fundraising campaign in the wake of a disaster, we are flooded with hundreds of millions of francs in donations. Our biggest-ever campaign was for the victims of the tsunami, when we raised CHF 227 million, and the second largest was for Haiti, when CHF 66 million was donated. These huge sums soon raise critical questions among donors and the media, such as whether we are sitting on piles of money or even gambling it away on the stock market.

Paying bit by bit
Because we invest a large part of the money in longer-term projects such as reconstruction, and at the same time have a highly sophisticated control system, we pay out funds in instalments. For each approved project we pay part of the costs at the beginning of the project, a part after interim results have been successfully presented and the rest at the end, once we have received the final report.

Return on investment
Because we pay out 66 million francs for earthquake victims in Haiti over several years, for example, it makes sense that the money should bring a return in the meantime. That‘s why we invest it very carefully. Since we became a foundation in 1983, we have almost always been able to cover our operating costs with the interest earned on this invested money. And what is more, in the past 30 years we have earned additional income of about CHF 7 million.

Just in 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2010, when the situation on the financial markets was not so rosy, did we make a loss. This gave the media in particular a lot to talk about, even though it occurred in just four out of 33 years.

Caution is called for
The times have become much more uncertain financially and we can no longer rely on generating enough interest to cover our operating costs. The Foundation has therefore decided to create a reserve fund, in which we currently hold around CHF 9 million. The reserve fund is made up of income surplus and remaining donated funds.


The biggest fundraising appeals

• 227 million Swiss francs: Tsunami Asia (December 2004)
• 74 million Swiss francs: Storms in Switzerland (Valais and Ticino, October 2000)
• 66,7 million Swiss francs: Earthquake Haiti (January 2010)
• 51,5 million Swiss francs: Victims of the Syria conflict/refugees (August 2012 – 2016)
• 49,9 million Swiss francs: War victims in Kosovo (April 1999)
• 49,5 million Swiss francs: Storms in Switzerland (Central Switzerland, Bernese Oberland and Graubünden, August 2005)
• 42,4 million Swiss francs: Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines (November 2013)
• 42,2 million Swiss francs: Floods in Pakistan (August 2010)
• 32,2 million Swiss francs: Earthquake in Nepal (May 2015)



In 70 years we have received donations in the amount of CHF 1.7 billion (including estimated donations in kind).

Call for donations

We have collected money for the victims of over 190 disasters in Switzerland and abroad over the past 70 years.

International projects

In 70 years we have financed around 3,500 international projects.

Social aid

Social aid has been given since 1946, first with donations in kind, later monetary.
Since the creation of the Foundation (1983), we have collected 38,7 million francs for social aid and helped around 100’000 people in need in Switzerland.

Natural disasters in Switzerland

209 million francs have been spent to help victims of flooding in Switzerland over the past 70 years.