May 9, 2011; Source: Philanthropy Journal | According to a new study by the Columbus Foundation, community foundations in the United States are “cautiously optimistic” that the worst of the recession is behind them. Among the 252 participating community foundations (representing 91 percent of the field’s total assets), average assets, donations, and grants all grew during 2010. Total assets and donations still trail behind peak levels of 2006 and 2007, and the rate of recovery still trails the overall market rebound. Nevertheless, there is on balance good news from community foundations. Grantmaking has actually increased since 2006.

On average, community foundation assets grew by 13 percent in 2010, as compared with a decline of 12 percent the year before. Over half (52 percent) are still not back to their historic high level of assets, which peaked in 2007. Asset growth was highest for smaller community foundations (those with assets under $49 million). It’s interesting to note that the median asset growth rate for even the largest community foundations (97 of the top 100 participated in this survey) significantly outpaced that of the country’s largest private foundations over this same period.

Annual giving to the largest 100 community foundations also grew, by 8.6 percent on average from 2009 to 2010. For the smaller community foundations, the average growth in donations from 2009 to 2010 was less than 1 percent. Overall, the inflow of donations now exceeds the outflow of grant funds, which indicates better sustainability for future grantmaking. Giving per capita is much higher in Midwestern and Western states than it is in the Northeast and South, which is a trend worth watching.

Despite the recession, grantmaking by community foundations has steadily increased by a total of 20 percent since 2006, even accounting for a decrease in 2009. However, between 2009 and 2010, there was significant variance around this indicator: one-third of community foundations maintained 2009 grant levels in 2010, one-third increased 2010 grantmaking by at least 10 percent, and one-third decreased 2010 grants by at least 10 percent. For the sample of largest community foundations, grantmaking totaled $3.7 billion in 2010, up 2.7 percent from 2009.

It’s great to see that community foundations are on more solid financial footing after sustaining their grantmaking throughout the recession, when communities have most needed it.—Kathi Jaworski