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California grants to minorities grow

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California foundations have significantly increased their grantmaking to minority populations over the past decade, says a new study.

At the state’s 50 largest foundations, at least 39 percent of California-focused grants primarily benefit populations of color, says the report by the Foundation Center.

The study’s release follows on the heels a decision by California Assemblyman Joe Coto to drop a controversial bill that would have required the state’s foundations to disclose the ethnic composition of their staff, grantees and associates.

Coto dropped the bill after 10 of California’s largest foundations announced a multi-million-dollar, multi-year investment in minority communities.

His criticism stemmed from a 2006 study by the Greenlining Institute, which sponsored his bill, Coto told The Sacramento Bee.

That study showed only 3.6 percent of grant dollars from the  top 24 foundations in the U.S. went to minority-led organizations.

But the new Foundation Center study, commissioned by a group of regional grantmakers, suggests earlier studies were largely inaccurate.

“Most of the data previously available has undercounted the level of philanthropic giving that benefits ethnic communities,” Larry McGill, senior vice president for research at the Foundation Center and primary author of the study, says in a statement.

Most grant descriptions provide only broad descriptions of target populations, like “people with AIDS” or “economically disadvantaged,” the study says.

These vague descriptors often conceal benefits to minority communities, the report says.

An estimated 75 percent of grants intended to benefit the economically disadvantaged, for example, also serve populations of color.

In 2005, McGill and his co-authors counted at least 2,700 grants by the 50 major California grantmakers studied, a total of $300 million, that they believe served ethnically and racially-diverse communities.

Grants benefiting these communities grew nearly twice as fast as the foundations’ overall giving between 1996 and 2005.

And one in seven grants in 2005 went to nonprofits with a specific mission to serve minorities.

Larger foundations were more likely than smaller grantmakers to specifically target minority populations, the report says.

The overwhelmingly concentration on health care among these minority-targeted grants reflects the grantmaking priorities of many of the state’s large foundations, like the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation, the report says.

The California Endowment alone accounted for more than half of all grant dollars explicitly targeted to benefit people of color.

The report’s authors emphasize that the current study is still only a partial picture of the impact of California’s foundations on minority communities.

A more accurate study, they say, would require systematic collection of “a great deal” of additional data.

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