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Nervous Nonprofits Look for Signs of Hope in Foundation Report

By Tom Watson on February 11, 2009No Comment

One person who probably has a fairly good idea is Steven Lawrence, the Foundation Center’s senior director of research and the report’s principal author. “We expect that the commitment of foundations to their missions and grantees will remain strong throughout the current economic crisis, though the size of their grants budgets will in many cases be affected,” Lawrence said.

“Aggregate foundation giving in 2009 is expected to be down, but not as far as might be suggested given the performance of the stock market,” he added in an interview. “We see foundations’ giving remaining stable or they will at least limit the reductions in giving.”

Of the 10 sectors reviewed for Foundation Giving Trends (2009 Edition), released today, environment and animals had the most dramatic uptick, rising 28.5 percent from the previous year, more than double the 13.2 percent rise in overall grant dollars. Only two sectors failed to experience an increase in funding, according to Lawrence: “There was a marginal decrease in arts and culture grants, and giving that was primarily for international affairs development activities, humanitarian relief, creating civic institutions — was down a bit.”

Among other key findings in the report:

  • Foundations awarded a record 188 grants of $10 million or more in 2007. Of the 10 largest, eight were made by the Gates Foundation, mainly for health-related activities and international development. 
  • International giving — which cuts across all areas and includes grants awarded directly to overseas recipients and to U.S.-based international programs — reached a record 23.4 percent of total grant dollars awarded. 
  • Among specific populations, the economically disadvantaged benefited from the largest share of grant dollars, rising to a record $5.3 billion.

The trends reported by the Center for 2007 occurred despite the onset of the current economic downturn in the latter half of the year. Nonprofits are not alone in wishing they had more potent tea leaves to read, but these analyses are helpful indicators of where valuable philanthropic dollars may be directed in months ahead. The Foundation Center will release estimates of 2008 giving by the nation’s more than 72,000 private and community foundations in March. The forthcoming report, Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates, will also include a discussion of the outlook for foundation giving in 2009 and beyond.

Foundation Giving Trends (2009 Edition) provides a comprehensive analysis of all of the grants of $10,000 or more awarded by over 1,300 of the largest private and community foundations in the United States in 2007 and tracks changes in funding trends since 1997. Grant dollars awarded by these funders totaled $21.6 billion and represented roughly half of overall giving by U.S. foundations.

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