Smaller Private Foundations Still Playing Catch-Up

Foundations with endowments under $50 million down 9% from prerecession levels, report says

American private foundations with endowments of less than $50 million are struggling to get back to their prerecession levels, according to a report released Tuesday by Foundation Source.

Smaller private foundations make up 98% of the 80,000 private foundations in the U.S., Foundation Source said in a statement.

Following are key findings from the report:

  • At the end of 2011, the endowments of private foundations with less than $50 million in assets were still down almost 9%, compared with their prerecession values.
  • Since 2007, private foundation donors contributed fresh capital to their foundations at the rate of 104% of the amount granted. (Foundation Source noted that this finding does not take into account foundation expenses, whereas the following point does include expenses.)
  • New capital contributions in 2011 were up 19% from the previous year, but still funded only 84% of total money out (grants plus expenses). Last year’s replenishment rate was higher than in 2010 (72%), but lower than in 2008 and 2009 (94% and 111%, respectively).

“We’ve seen for many years how our clients replenish their assets, but had not realized how well their contributions held up through the economic downturn,” Andrew Bangser, Foundation Source’s chief financial officer, said in the statement.

“The data indicates that smaller foundations contribute more than larger foundations on a percentage basis. But that’s to be expected as many of our clients’ foundations are operated or controlled by individuals and families still in their earning years, who are continuing to fund their foundations throughout their working lives.”

The statement said data for the study were collected from 519 private foundations clients with assets of less than $50 million that had been clients for all five years (2007-2011).

It said analysts looked at the three key variables that affect private foundation asset levels:

  1. Money out: grants and expenses
  2. Money in: infusions of new capital, contributed by the donor
  3. Gains and losses: how a foundation’s assets performed in the financial markets.

The new findings are a preview of Foundation Source’s Private Foundation Index 2011, which will be published in late summer. The full index will provide extensive, aggregated data about private foundation grants, asset allocation and investment performance.

In February, Foundation Source released data from the forthcoming index concerning the grant-making activity of smaller private foundations.

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