‘Cautious optimism’ for community foundations

Community foundations
Community foundations

While their assets, gifts and grants all grew in 2010 in the wake of the recession, community foundations are walking a fine line between focusing on immediate and long-term needs, a new study says.

Assets at over 250 community foundations participating in the annual survey by the Columbus Foundation grew 13 percent on average in 2010, compared to a decline of 12 percent in 2009.

Yet while nearly one-third of community foundations increased their overall operating expenses by 19 percent on average, roughly one-fourth reduced their expenses by 20 percent on average.

And despite the growth in assets, 52 percent of survey respondents have not rebounded to the all-time high levels they posted in 2007.

“As assets begin to recover from the global economic crisis and communities continue to feel the effects of a sluggish economy, community foundations are working to strike a sustainable balance between addressing current needs and investing for the future,” says the study, Columbus Survey 2010 Results: Guideposts Point to Growth, which was released by the Council on Foundation and CF Insights.

“Over the past few years, community foundations and donors have stretched to maintain operating capacity and grantmaking efforts in spite of dramatic changes in the resources available,” the study says. “As assets increase once more, each community foundation must calibrate its own sense of optimism.”

Among 97 of the 100 biggest community foundations in the U.S. that participated in the survey in 2009 and 2010, median growth in assets totaled 10.1 percent.

Among large community foundations overall, assets grew $4 billion, or 7 percent, to $44 billion, but still 4 percent lower than the $46 billion in assets for that group in 2007.

Giving to large community foundations grew to $3.8 billion in 2010 from $3.5 billion in 2009 but still over $1 billion below the $4.9 billion in giving in 2006 and 2007.

Grantmaking among large community foundations, however, has grown steadily from $3.1 billion in 2006, except for a slight decline to $3.6 billion in 2009, and totaled $3.7 billion in 2010.

“The picture from 2010 suggests an attitude of cautious optimism, with resources for community philanthropy growing and donor activity increasing relative to 2009, though increases in gifts and grants trail the market recovery,” the study says.

Community foundations, it says, “must persist in promoting philanthropy in an environment where donors are also cautious, increasing resources available to effective nonprofits, and leading the way toward collective impact.”

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