Community Foundations Survey Provides for Cautious Optimism

The Council on Foundations and CF Insights today released the Columbus Survey, Guideposts Point to Growth, the field’s most comprehensive report on community foundation assets, gifts, and grants for 2010.

The data was gathered from more than 250 community foundations, including 99 of the 100 largest foundations, which represent more than 90 percent of total estimated community foundation assets. Participating foundations account for more than $50 billion in assets, $4.5 billion in philanthropic gifts, and $4.1 billion in grantmaking.

The survey reveals an environment where community foundation assets are increasing but where gifts still lag behind market recovery. Highlights include:

  • An average asset growth of 13 percent in 2010 compared to a 12 percent decline in 2009.
  • Median asset growth was 10.1 percent among 97 of the 100 largest U.S. community foundations.
  • Assets, gifts, and grants increased for community foundations of all sizes, although the increase in gifts and grants at smaller foundations was more modest.
  • Nearly one-third of community foundations increased overall operating expenses by an average of 19 percent, while roughly one-quarter reduced expenses by an average of 20 percent.
  • Despite the increase in asset growth, 52 percent of respondents are not back to the historical marks set in 2007.
  • Assets among large community foundations increased by $4 billion in the last year, a 7 percent increase from 2006 levels. While gifts increased from $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion, the level still represents a 21 percent decline from 2006.
  • Grants from large community foundations totaled $3.7 billion, representing a 19 percent increase from 2006 levels despite a small dip in 2009.
  • Approximately 49 percent of all community foundations experienced a moderate (11 to 49 percent) or dramatic (50 to 100 percent) increase in gifts compared to 33 percent experiencing a moderate or dramatic decrease.
  • Community foundations were split almost evenly among maintaining, increasing, and decreasing grantmaking levels.
  • Gifts per capita were highest in the West ($36.05) and Midwest ($33.52), followed by the South ($20.31) and the Northeast ($13.49).

The Columbus Survey has been the hallmark survey for U.S. community foundations since 1988 and presents the most comprehensive picture of the current state of the field,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations. “The data reflects the important role community foundations have played throughout the recession. Despite the economic downturn of the last several years, grantmaking continued to increase – providing innovative investments to help communities weather the recession and prepare for the future.”

The survey data is free to participating community foundations, which can use it to generate reports that offer a better understanding of growth and performance when compared to peers. Using metrics focused on asset development, grantmaking, investment performance, and sustainability, foundations can compare their 2010 performance to similar organizations and determine accurate and appropriate benchmarks for the future.

The Columbus Survey was produced by The Columbus Foundation from 1988 to 2007. In 2009, it was transitioned to CF Insights and the Council’s Community Foundations Leadership Team.