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Growth in U.S. Foundation Giving Fails to Keep Pace With Inflation

(June 12, 2012) Giving by U.S. foundations showed a modest increase in 2011, totaling an estimated $46.9 billion and up 2.2 percent from the year before. After accounting for inflation, however, contributions by U.S. foundations were down slightly from 2010.

And, if you exclude the giving of the country’s largest grantmaker, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2011 giving would have been down by a greater amount, roughly 3 percent after inflation.

While U.S. foundations regained more than 9 percent of their asset value in 2010, their assets were virtually unchanged in 2011 (increasing 0.3 percent to an estimated $646.1 billion) and remain well below the record $682.2 billion recorded in 2007. More than one-third of foundations that responded to the survey indicated that they had reduced their giving last year. The results are from The Foundation Center’s recently released Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates 2012 report. They attribute the flat estimated total giving levels to the continued economic volatility in 2011.

Other 2011 estimates include:

  • Independent and family foundations, which represent the vast majority of U.S. foundations, increased their charitable contributions by less than 2 percent to $33.1 billion before inflation.
  • Corporate foundation giving rose 6 percent to $5.2 billion before inflation, surpassing other types of foundations.
  • Community foundation giving declined slightly and totaled $4.2 billion before inflation.

Some U.S. foundations’ giving may have remained flat in 2011 because they continued to “recalibrate” their giving after increasing their payout rate during the depths of the economic crisis, notes the Foundation Center report author Steven Lawrence, director of research. “While the assets of these foundations may have recovered to some degree from their 2008 losses, returning to more typical payout levels means that that overall grant dollars awarded by these foundations may remain fairly flat.”

Growth in giving is also predicted to be weak for the near future. The Foundation Center’s latest forecast research indicates that giving by U.S. foundations should grow between 1 and 3 percent in 2012. With inflation averaging just under 3 percent, this suggests that foundation giving will likely remain unchanged at best based on real purchasing power. Despite this less than ideal outlook, a majority of respondents expect to either increase (44 percent) or maintain (18 percent) their giving in 2012.

Foundation giving will likely continue to show consistent, albeit very modest, growth in 2013. Lawrence suggests taking a cautious approach to forecasting foundation growth over the next couple of years, however, given an uncertain economic and political climate in the U.S. and abroad.

About the Survey

Giving projections for 2011 through 2013 reported in Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates are based on responses to the Foundation Center's 2012 "Foundation Giving Forecast Survey" from 1,077 large and mid-size foundations across the country, combined with year-end economic indicators. Final giving figures for 2011 will be available in early 2013. The report is available at

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