What they are
The foundation is an entity set up by one or more persons through the allocation of a sum of money or assets for the achievement of a defined purpose, as a rule altruistic or otherwise idealistic. So in addition to the purpose, the fundamental point is the existence of a fortune: unlike associations, there is no group of members, but only an organisation that manages the assets assigned for the purposes stated. There is no meeting of members and the will of the founder remains paramount.
Foundations, like recognised associations, are legal persons. Foundations must therefore be set up by public deed and apply for recognition; they may also be set up by a will. Once recognised and entered in the register of legal persons they acquire legal personality, with the relevant effects of “perfect” economic independence. The personal assets of the founder will therefore be quite distinct from those of the foundation.
As for recognised associations, the regulation of foundations is subject to particular constraints. First of all, once recognition has been achieved or at least activity has started, they can no longer be revoked by the founder or by the heirs of the founder. They are generally subject to review by the administrative authority: moreover there are certain obligations and restrictions regarding administration and representation, and transformation, dissolution and devolution of property.
By complying with the conditions and requirements of the law, they can also become non-profit organisations and enjoy the relevant benefits.