After Inflation, Foundations Gave Less in 2011

Foundation Center survey expects growth will remain unchanged at best this year

Giving by U.S. foundations lost ground to inflation in 2011 even as total giving increased by 2.2% to an estimated $46.9 billion, surpassing the 2008 peak, according to a study released Thursday by the Foundation Center.

After accounting for inflation, foundation giving last year was down slightly from 2010. Worse, if the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were removed from the total, 2011 giving by the nation’s more than 77,600 foundations would have been down by about 3% after inflation. Gates is the largest grant maker in the country.

More than a third of respondents to the Foundation Center’s annual Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates said they had cut back on giving in 2011 because of the volatile economic environment.

Market upheaval last year left foundations with a 0.3% increase in assets to approximately $646.1 billion, down from a 2007 peak of $682.2 billion.

The study also included these estimates for 2011:

  • Corporate foundation giving rose 6% to $5.2 billion before inflation, surpassing other types of foundations.
  • Independent and family foundations—the biggest segment of U.S. foundations—increased their charitable contributions by 1.9% to $33.1 billion before inflation.
  • Community foundation giving fell slightly, totaling $4.2 billion before inflation.

With the economic recovery gasping for breath, don’t look for foundation giving to perk up in 2012. The survey put growth between 1% and 3%, meaning that with inflation averaging slightly less than 3% it will remain unchanged at best.

Respondents expected giving to continue to grow modestly in 2013.

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