Saturday, March 17, 2007

U.S. foundation giving keeps surging, and changing

The Foundation Center, the best source of information on charitable foundations, has released its latest trend data. While the fact that foundation grantmaking continues to boom is hardly a surprise given various newspaper headlines the last few years, there are some changes underway which development directors and executive directors would be wise to think about.

The Center's data comes from the largest 1,100 foundations, representing about half of all foundation grant dollars awarded. Total grant dollars from those institutions are rising now at close to twice the rate of inflation: up about 6% in 2005 after a rise of 8% for 2004. (And the center predicts an even greater increase for 2006 thanks to various high-profile foundation gifts starting to turn into new grant dollars).

Those increases are in dollars awarded, though -- the total number of individual grants issued rose only half as much. So the average size of individual foundation grants is rising. At the top end, a record 308 individual grants were at least $5 million each in 2005.

The common accusation that foundations have limited attention spans is supported in some ways by this data. For example the largest grantmaking increases by subject area in 2005 were environmental and animal-related causes, two categories which had declined the previous three years.

Unrestricted grants rose by only 1% for 2005, meaning they declined as a fraction of all grant dollars. So that's one recurring gripe which is not yet being persuasive for many folks on the foundation side of the discussion (I'm one example of that, actually).

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