Study: Community Foundation Grantmaking Reaches Record Total in 2017

Grants by the nation’s 100 largest community foundations totaled a record $7.9 billion in 2017 — an increase of more than $1.1 billion from 2016, according to the Columbus Survey.

 Investments by community foundations in efforts such as Boston’s summer jobs program reached a record in 2017. Each summer, the Boston Foundation provides funding for summer jobs for hundreds of teenagers and young adults in Greater Boston. The funding includes opportunities for young people with backgrounds that might otherwise disqualify them from work and prevent them from turning their lives around. (Photo by Richard Howard)

Investments by community foundations in efforts such as Boston’s summer jobs program reached a record in 2017. Each summer, the Boston Foundation provides funding for summer jobs for hundreds of teenagers and young adults in Greater Boston. The funding includes opportunities for young people with backgrounds that might otherwise disqualify them from work and prevent them from turning their lives around. (Photo by Richard Howard)

That total comes at a time when community foundations of all sizes are seeing a surge in assets, both through increased contributions by donors and by the growth of investments.

Gifts to these 100 largest foundations reached more than $8.9 billion in 2017 — up $780 million compared with 2016.

The Columbus Survey figures tell an interesting story about the growing impact of community-based giving.

Donors are contributing more money than ever before to community foundations at a time when the financial markets have also been posting healthy returns. These two factors have allowed community foundations to ramp up their support of nonprofits.

This means that the rate of growth in community foundation grantmaking is actually outpacing the growth of new contributions into the foundations — a trend that bodes well for nonprofits and the communities they serve.

In 2017, the increase in grants for the median community foundation was 10 percent, the survey found. Meanwhile, the median increase in gifts into these foundations was 7 percent.

Looking back even farther, the Columbus Survey figures show that while annual gifts to these community foundations increased by 100 percent from 2011 to 2017, annual grantmaking increased at an even faster rate: 120 percent.

What’s more, a corresponding growth in assets held by these foundations means that they are well positioned to support their communities through their grantmaking when economic conditions change.

The Columbus Survey is widely recognized as the census of the community foundation field — as it annually collects data from U.S. community foundations to analyze financial trends and operational trends. The Columbus Foundation started the survey in 1988 and before turning the project over to CF Insights in 2008.

CF Insights — which operates under the guidance of the Foundation Center — administers the survey and uses the data to inform field-wide research that helps community foundations gain knowledge about their operations in relation to their peers.

Peter Panepento