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U.S./world – Short on staff – Dependence on volunteers

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Growth in professional staff at U.S. foundations has not kept pace with the boom in the number of foundations, a new study says.

The U.S. has more foundations, including more with staff, but the share of big foundations with staff has declined and still is small, says the study by the Foundation Center in New York.

Those trends suggest that most foundations are staffed by volunteers, the study says.

But the Foundation Center expects the share of foundations reporting staff to begin to rebound in the next few years.

“Growth in the number of larger foundations has been exceptional, and it takes time for these new grantmakers to determine whether they need assistance and what form that support should take,” says Loren Renz, the center’s vice president for research.

And while some foundations, particularly smaller family foundations, depend entirely on volunteers, she says, the need for paid staff “can become increasingly necessary” as foundations grow in size.

Analyzing data for nearly 19,000 foundations that contribute at least $100,000 a year or hold assets of at least $1 million, the study says the share of big foundations with staff fell from nearly one in four in 1991 to one in six in 2001.

The number of staffed foundations grew to 3,123 in 2001 from 1,967 in 1991, while the number of staff they employ nearly doubled to 17,013.

Foundations likely to employ staff were that were bigger, older, community and corporate foundations, and located in the West and South.

Foundations employed 5.5 staff on average, although nearly two of three staffed foundations employed two or fewer staff.

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