Foundation Giving Grew Modestly in 2008

In the midst of a deepening economic crisis, the more than 75,000 U.S. grantmaking foundations nevertheless increased their giving 2.8 percent in 2008 to an estimated $45.6 billion, according to Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook (2009 Edition), released yesterday by the Foundation Center.

Although foundation giving grew modestly in 2008, it did not grow as much as had been expected due to the extreme nature of the current economic downturn. Just under a third (29 percent) of the more than 1,200 foundations that responded to the Foundation Center’s annual “Foundation Giving Forecast Survey” a year ago – before the economic crisis took hold – said they expected to reduce their giving in 2008. But according to findings from the latest survey conducted in early 2009, close to half of the top U.S. funders (47 percent) actually reduced their giving in 2008.

Findings from the Foundation Center’s latest survey suggest that in 2009 foundation giving will decrease in the range of the high single digits to low double digits, even though estimated foundation assets declined a far greater 21.9 percent in 2008. Most respondents (67.1 percent) say they expect to reduce their 2009 giving to at least some extent, with community foundations being most likely to anticipate a decrease. Given the continuing instability in the economy and stock market, it is also likely that foundation giving will decline further in 2010.

Other key estimates for 2008 giving include:

  • Independent and family foundations – which represent close to nine out of 10 foundations  – increased their giving 2.5 percent to $33 billion in 2008.
  • Corporate foundation giving held steady at $4.4 billion in 2008.
  • Community foundation giving rose 6.7 percent to $4.6 billion in 2008, surpassing corporate foundations for the first time.

“Foundations remain one of the few sources of stability for nonprofit organizations in this very volatile economic climate. However, the longer this crisis persists, the more foundations will have to reduce giving,” said Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center.

The complete report, part of the annual Foundations Today Series on foundation growth and giving, can be accessed at no charge at the Gain Knowledge area of the Foundation Center’s web site.