Community Charities Saw Improved Prospects in 2011

Survey finds asset levels surpassed 2007 levels at majority of community groups

Community foundations continued to operate in an economically volatile environment in 2011, but saw enough good news for “cautious optimism,” according to a new survey.

Asset levels last year exceeded 2007 peaks at two-thirds of tax-exempt community charitable groups, compared with only half the year before, the Council on Foundations and CF Insights reported last week.

Other findings from the new study, “Columbus Survey, Guideposts for Navigating Peaks and Valleys,” include these:

  • Assets and grants increased for the typical community foundation last year, though these increases were more modest at larger foundations.
  • Community foundations’ 2011 average asset growth was 8% compared with growth of 13% in 2010. Fiscal year-ends were a big factor in these trends, with FYEs later in the year experiencing lower growth rates.
  • On average, gifts to community foundations remained static in 2011, though in aggregate, gifts to the largest ones increased from $4 billion to $4.5 billion.
  • Donor-advised fund assets grew by an average of 10%, but gifts declined by 7%.
  • Half of community foundations increased overall operating expenses between 2010 and 2011, continuing an upward trend that began in 2008.
  • Administrative fees represented almost 70% of total revenue at community foundations, indicating that most respondents have diversified revenue beyond asset-based fees.

“The picture from 2011 reinforces the notion that there truly is no typical community foundation performance,” Rebecca Graves, executive director of CF Insights, said in a statement. “It was a good year in many respects, though the field did not see growth across the board and results for individual community foundations vary widely.”

Survey data came from 290 community foundations, including 97 of the 100 largest ones, and represent more than 90% of total estimated community foundation assets, the statement said. Participating foundations account for $53 billion in assets, $5 billion in philanthropic gifts and $4 billion in grant making.

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