March 19, 2013

Smaller Private Foundations Continue to Show Their Mettle

Giving of organizations under $50 million grew by 9.1% in 2012

Charitable giving by small and midsize U.S. private foundations increased last year both in dollar value and relative to the overall size of foundation assets, according to a new report.

On Tuesday, Foundation Source released preliminary findings on 2012 giving activity by U.S. private foundations with endowments of less than $50 million. These represent 98% of all private foundations in the U.S.

The initial report on 2012 giving behavior included these findings:

  • Private foundations with less than $50 million granted 9.1% more in 2012 than in 2011. The report attributed much of this increase to foundations in the $1 million to $10 million range, which granted 21.5% more in 2012 than the year before.
  • Smaller private foundations continued to pay out more than twice their 5% minimum distribution requirement, and in 2012 actually increased their qualifying distributions (grants plus charitable expenses) to 11.7% of assets, up from 11.2% in 2011.
  • Priorities shifted in 2012, with international causes, arts and culture, and human services receiving an increased share of giving dollars.
  • Grants of less than $1,000 experienced the biggest increase from 2011 to 2012, up 16.8% in value. These were followed by grants between $100,000 and $1 million, up 16.2% in value. Grants in the $1,000-to-$10,000 range showed the smallest increase, up 4.9% in value.

“The narrative over the last few years has been that foundations under $50 million were ‘stepping up’ to do more during hard times,” Foundation Source’s CEO, King McGlaughon, said in a statement.

“While no one would question their extraordinary generosity, the consistently high and sustained levels of giving that we see suggest that this group may actively exceed their minimum distribution requirement regardless of what is happening in the broader economy.”

The preliminary findings were based on the actual grantmaking of 732 Foundation Source clients. The organization’s full report on private foundations’ asset allocation, grant making and endowment growth or decline will be released in May.

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