Big U.S. foundations’ assets last year grew to their highest levels since the onset of the financial crisis thanks to robust stock market returns, but still have a way to go before they reach prerecession levels.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual report on the nation’s largest foundations, released last week, found that grantmakers’ still-straitened circumstances have constrained their giving.
At the same time, these foundations are rolling out new grant programs to deal with such vexing issues as income inequality, climate change and cybersecurity.
The Chronicle analyzed financial information from 195 of the country’s wealthiest foundations, most of it from tax returns for the 2012 fiscal year. Many foundations also provided 2013 and 2014 information that was yet to be audited.
Among 66 foundations that provided seven years of data, 2013 assets were still 16.6% below the total $223.7 billion reported in 2007, and their grant making last year was 6.5% lower.
The Chronicle said year-to-year comparisons that foundations provided gave grant seekers at least some reasons for optimism.
Assets at the 83 grant makers that furnished data showing how they fared in 2013 compared with 2012 grew by 7.5%, a sign that giving may increase by that much this year.
These 83 large foundations represent 35% of the wealth held by the more than 78,000 foundations operating in 2011, according to the most recently available data from the Foundation Center.
Retrench and Refocus
The survey found that tight grantmaking budgets and a focus on evaluations had prompted many grant makers to reevaluate their spending and redirect it to new causes.
The $8.3 billion William and Flora Hewlett Foundation reported that it would phase out its Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative. This eight-year, $20 million effort has financed work by organizations such as GuideStar, GiveWell and Charity Navigator to produce in-depth information about nonprofits’ performance.