April 21, 2010

Foundations' Grant Making Plummeted in 2009

U.S. grant-making foundations recorded an 8.4% decline in giving in 2009, according to the Foundation Center's 2010 edition of Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates, released on April 16. Charitable giving fell to $42.9 billion from $46.8 billion the previous year, by far the largest decline it has tracked, the center said in a statement. It ascribed this to the recent economic crisis.

If the Foundation Center had any good news to report, it was that the reduced giving totaled only about half the 17% loss in foundation assets recorded in 2008.

The new report indicates that several factors moderated the reduction in foundation giving last year. One was the decision by many of the 75,000 funders to cut back on their operating expenses or draw on their endowments in order to maintain their giving during the financial crisis. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other grant makers increased their giving. As well, dollars from continuing gifts and bequests from donors flowed into new and existing foundations. And some grant makers engaged in asset-averaging, which reduces the effect on giving of year-to-year fluctuations in asset values.

The report includes these estimates for 2009

? Independent and family foundations, about nine out of 10 such entities, reduced their grant making by 8.9% in 2009;
? Corporate foundation giving fell by 3.3%; and
? Community foundation giving was down 9.6%

The center's statement said that its annual "Foundation Giving Forecast Survey" indicates that foundation giving will be flat in 2010, and may grow modestly in 2011 if the economic recovery continues.

Michael S. Fischer (msf7@columbia.edu) is a New York-based financial writer and editor and a frequent contributor to Wealth Manager.

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