Council on Foundations-Commonfund Report 12% Earnings Growth in Foundations in 2012

A just-released joint study from the Council on Foundations-Commonfund Institute report a asset growth in 2012 of 12% amount a group of 140 surveyed foundations.  This is encouraging news — it represents a veritable “tidal shift” over the minus 0.7 returns reported in 2011 in a similar study.

Certainly, many of us have heard that grantmaker boards taken both a sharper eye and a sharper pencil to investment strategies since the Great Recession began.   And this news may bear out that changes in these strategies are paying dividends to the investors. The larger question is whether asset growth will add up to increased dividends to grantees.

One initial sign that growth in investment income may be pointing to some resurgence in foundation philanthropy is the reported 4.4% increase in 2012  foundation giving reported in Giving USA, this after three to four years of virtually no growth (in inflation-adjusted dollars) in such philanthropy.

Read more about the study here:

A spike in earnings or a sign of some positive lasting change?  And is this change you are seeing and feeling in your grantseeking efforts? Please add your thoughts below.


Sell the Party First: The Charity Will Follow

I had a very interesting conversation with a client today. A wealthy friend wants to hold a cocktail party as a cultivation event to benefit his favorite charity.  And, of course, he asked my thoughts about how to go about this.

I confess that I went into “auto-consultant” mode and started mapping out the usual M.O. — select the date, select the venue, invite people personally so they will say “yes”, so forth and so on.  But then a little voice in the back of my mind chimed in — “um, would YOU attend this party?  And if so, why?”

I stopped mid sentence and said to him, “You know, given that the folks being invited to the event don’t know anything about the charity, I think you have to sell the party first and then you can sell them the charity.”  Those readers who are far more adept that me at planning events –  that would be about 99.9% of you – already know this.  But I spend a lot of my time focusing on strategies of persuasion and invitation and precious little time thinking about the fun of simply engaging with others in a way that there is some residual benefits for others.

Back to my conversation with the client.  Our conversation turned to what kind of parties we like and that our friends seem to like most.  What kind of music is best. What kind of wine goes down with what slice of cheese . . . or brats on the grill in the backyard.  The upshot was to think about what kind of gathering would attract people, would make them feel most welcome and at ease, provide some fun (everyone brings a bottle of wine for a blind tasting and the winner gets a prize).  And all to benefit a charity that is doing some amazingly great things to help families and children.  

What we agreed is that if we find the right way to make people feel the most welcome, we are creating the most important ingredients of the personal invitation to give: comfort and permission.  The beauty of philanthropy is found both in your own heart and where more than one of us gather to offer the generosity of our spirit magic can occur.  

It was wonderful to revisit that idea this afternoon.  And even more, to pass it along through this simple post.

Cocktails on the veranda or brats in the backyard?  The club or the tailgate?  A quite afternoon in the sunshine or dancing until dawn?  How are you creatively building safe and generous space for your volunteers and donors?


Kudos to Foundation Center For Launching FDO Free

From our friends at the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch comes exciting news:


The Foundation Center, the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide, has launched Foundation Directory Online (FDO) Free, an online tool that dramatically expands public access to the Center’s authoritative collection of foundation information. At no cost, users can search the basic profiles and IRS Forms 990-PF of nearly 90,000 grantmakers, less than 7 percent of which have web sites of their own. This resource benefits the entire social sector by putting critical data at anyone’s fingertips. FDO Free is the newest member of the Center’s premier Foundation Directory Online suite of fundraising research tools, which provide even deeper access to a wealth of detailed, structured grantmaking information that successful grantseekers have relied upon for decades.

With FDO Free, users can search for grantmaking foundations and find their contact information, fields of interest, financial data, and program priorities. The Center has also released an FDO Free search “widget” that can be embedded on any web site to further widen access.

Unique to this new tool is how it enables users to search by keyword across the entire text of the IRS Forms 990-PF for all independent grantmaking foundations. “While the IRS may someday make foundations’ 990 returns available in machine-readable open format,” said Bradford K. Smith, the Foundation Center’s president, “‘someday’ isn’t soon enough for the millions of nonprofit organizations who are tackling the world’s most pressing problems. FDO Free makes it possible to search the raw data on the IRS forms today, alongside additional information that has been cleaned and organized by the Center’s professional staff.” Together, these produce a powerful fundraising tool that helps nonprofits find the grants they need and is completely accessible to social entrepreneurs, researchers, or anyone else who wants to know about how America’s foundations contribute to the public good.

Initiatives to expand the amount of free data and information the Foundation Center makes available are in keeping with its mission to strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge about philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world. FDO Free also contributes to the goal of connecting nonprofits to the resources they need to thrive, part of the Foundation Center 2020 strategic plan.

FDO Free is available at

Falling Forward: Grantseeking Questions for Autumn 2013


Summer is (almost) over and I am dusting the sand of my shoes and thinking about this autumn’s grantseeking.  Here are the questions foremost in my mind.

  1. Will foundation giving see an uptick in the last quarter of the year?  The conventional wisdom is that grantmakers will benchmark their allocations against an 18-month trailing average.  With some economic recovery over the past year (felt in some places more than others) will there be a rising tide to lift our boats?
  2. Will foundations “play it safe” and keep giving level?  I have heard several foundation leaders say that the big lesson from the Great Recession is to work contrary to #1 above and keep giving closer to the 5% minimum and use the good times to rebuild assets.  Now, we know the old axiom “if you know one grantmaker, you know one grantmaker” is true — everyone has their own approach.   The trends may be telling us that grantors may still be in a conservative mood when it comes to giving.
  3. Are more foundations beginning to implement “cycling”?  I myself see more foundations implementing cycles of giving — e.g. two years on, one year off.  This means that we may find ourselves working to replace grants, leaving our overall results fairly steady over last year.
  4. Will there be new “hot buttons” emerging in your industry sector?  For example, in the field of youth education and development, I saw more giving for college access and retention programming in Spring 2013 and I expect this may be a trend that will affect fundraising for many of my youth-serving clients this fall.  What are the trends in your sector?
  5. Will corporate philanthropy continue to flourish?  The irony of our recession is the rise of corporate giving (with the caveat that many corporations increase donations of products or services).   I myself am quite excited by some of the prospects for increased support and involvement with nonprofits and plan to follow this trend in the fall, particularly as we try to engage donors and prospects now for 2014 gift/volunteer allocations.

I hope the summer has refreshed and rejuvenated you, dear reader.  What is on your mind as we turn the corner into what I hope will be a season of promise?