Financial Crisis Takes Toll on Social Justice Giving: Foundation Center

Smaller foundations will have hardest time recovering, study finds

The global financial crisis has disproportionately affected grant makers who work on issues ranging from human rights to environmental justice, and their recovery remains in jeopardy, according to a report released last week by Foundation Center.

The study, “Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy,” examined endowed foundations that engage in social justice philanthropy in at least two U.S. geographic regions and award $100 million or less in grants annually. The giving of the foundations sampled ($763 million) represents about a quarter of all documented social justice giving in 2009 ($3 billion), Foundation Center said in a statement.

Key findings of the study indicate that:

  • Unless the field sees five years of above-average investment returns, social justice grant making in 2015 will remain below 2008 levels.
  • Foundations with less than $50 million in assets will have the toughest time recovering from the economic downturn.
  • Nonprofit organizations seeking new funders will have a difficult time.
  • Some foundations are unintentionally depleting their endowments at a very slow rate.

“The ripple effect from the damage to these foundations’ endowments has the potential to be significant and lasting for the social justice arena,” Sara K. Gould, the Foundation Center's Atlantic Philanthropies senior fellow and author of the report, said in the statement.

“These are key players in the field of social justice philanthropy, often serving a unique and critical role in local communities with grassroots efforts and an on-the-ground presence. Yet, they are also some of the most vulnerable.” 

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