Signs of the Times: Observations on The Foundation Center’s “Key Facts on US Foundations 2013”

Recently, The Foundation Center released its annual report on US Foundation giving trends, “Key Facts on US Foundations 2013.” Here, I will share some of my observations about the data and what it might mean for grantseekers in the year ahead.

  1. Foundation giving continues to flat-line.  While foundation giving experienced an uptick in 2012, that uptick managed to keep pace with inflation which means that foundation giving remains about level with 2007 — the last year before the recession.  While that is good news considering the significant portfolio losses experienced between 2009-2011, it indicates that most foundations are not revving up grantmaking as markets continue to recover.  This suggests to me that most are taking a more cautious and conservative approach to allocations, staying closer to the requisite 5% payout.
  2. Health and education continue to dominate giving.  The report reflects significant giving to these two sectors, an allocation that has remained steady and consistent for years, comparable to individual philanthropy.  Granted (no pun intended) that these two sectors are home to the largest grantseeking institutions (hospitals and higher education) so there is no surprise.  The surprise is saved for #3 below.
  3. Arts and culture are making a comeback.  This sector had a very strong showing for 2011.  Indeed, colleagues in the sector tell me that they managed to recapture foundation grants that were lost after the 2008 crash when many foundations decided to support essential human services (e.g. food banks, employment training/placement, emergency assistance).
  4. General operating support is on an upward trend.  General support grants made up 29% of total awards, according to the report — an increase of about 9% since 2008.  The recession sparked an industry-wide conversation about the need/efficacy of this type of support among charities and grantmakers alike and it appears foundations are continuing to respond positively.
  5. The 1%ers did well.  According to the report, 1% of grant recipients received 50% of all foundation dollars awarded.  Enough said.
  6. Are the Waltons the new Gates Family?  The Walton Family Foundation surpassed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the top foundation donor in 2011.

The report states that “According to the Foundation Center’s annual “Foundation Giving Forecast Survey,” the outlook for 2013 is for continued modest growth overall. It may not be the boom years of the late 1990s or mid-2000s, but U.S. foundations continue to provide a stable source of support for new ideas and ongoing programs that improve lives around the world.”

Link here to download your copy of the report: