News and analysis
October 25, 2016

Clinton Foundation Fundraising Dropped $57 Million in 2015

Ed Ou, Getty Images

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Bill Clinton will step down from the foundation. The Clinton Foundation solicits donations for programs around the world, such as the Building Tomorrow Academy, a school in Uganda.

Private support for the Clinton Foundation fell 36 percent to $100 million in 2015, although the $57 million decline is not unusual for an organization that has routinely experienced big annual swings in fundraising.

The drop-off correlates, in part at least, to the easing up on a major fundraising push in 2013 and 2014 to build a $250 million endowment and to the way pledges must be booked for accounting purposes.

"We continue to fund significant and impactful charitable programmatic work — which covers 87 percent of total spending," Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, told The Chronicle in an email Monday. "While we’ve seen the revenue line of our 990s fluctuate, this is mainly attributable to having received pledges for our endowment in 2013 and 2014."

Generally accepted accounting practices require pledges be reported as revenue the year they are made, even if the money is received over several years. The Clinton Foundation took in more money in 2015 than what it reported as revenue for the year because some money was pledged and recorded in previous years, according to foundation officials.

The organization provided its latest private-support numbers for The Chronicle’s 2016 Philanthropy 400 survey, an annual ranking of the 400 biggest U.S. charities based on private support. The Clinton Foundation’s $100 million in 2015 was enough to land it at No. 285 in the rankings, to be released Thursday.

The Clinton Foundation is an operating charity — it solicits donations and runs many of its own programs, rather than making grants — and has made the Philanthropy 400 list every year since 2004.

Multiyear comparisons of the organization’s finances require taking into account its fluctuating legal structure. Among other things, in 2010, it spun off into a separate entity a major program, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which works to deliver HIV/AIDS medicine in poor countries.

The Chronicle’s 2014 and 2015 private-support numbers do not include donations for Clinton Health Access Initiative. The Chronicle considers donations of cash, stock, and in-kind gifts as private support. It excludes government grants. The numbers in the survey reflect both unrestricted and restricted gifts, such as money designated for an endowment.

Big Swings

A major capital campaign or a single large gift can send any charity’s numbers skyward one year, only to have them drop precipitously the next.

Private support for the Clinton Foundation climbed steadily through the mid-2000s, then began fluctuating in 2009.

In 2013, the Clinton Foundation initiated a special fundraising effort to create an endowment, raising $58 million in cash and pledges that year. In 2014, the campaign drew another $92 million, according to audited financial statements, bringing the endowment total to about $150 million. Total private support in 2014 was $157 million, landing the Clinton Foundation at No. 166 on the Philanthropy 400.

By 2015, the most intense phase of the endowment fundraising effort had concluded. When adjusting for inflation, last year’s $100 million private support was still 74 percent higher than when the nonprofit first appeared on the Philanthropy 400 list in 2004.

The Clinton Foundation did not provide information on what part, if any, of its $100 million in private support in 2015 was designated for the endowment.

Officials said that the foundation has hit its $250 million endowment fundraising goal, although not all of the pledges have come in yet.

Negative Publicity

Still, the drop-off in 2015 will no doubt raise questions about the impact on fundraising of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House and intense scrutiny of foundation donors by the media and political opponents. That scrutiny intensified in early 2015 as Hillary Clinton readied to declare her candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and it was enough to briefly land the Clinton Foundation on watchdog Charity Navigator’s "watch list," a signal to donors that substantive questions have been raised about a group’s performance.

In response, the Clinton Foundation announced a slate of changes: Hillary Clinton quit the board, international foundation-sponsored gatherings were suspended, and, except for a half dozen countries friendly with the United States, foreign governments’ donations were no longer accepted. In addition, in July 2015, the foundation began releasing quarterly updates of its donor database. It has been disclosing at least some donor information since 2008, one of a small number of public charities, including the Carter Center, to do so.

In August, Bill Clinton announced additional steps if Ms. Clinton is elected president: It will no longer accept donations from any foreign governments or corporations, and Mr. Clinton will step down from the foundation. The Clinton Global Initiative has already effectively ended, holding its final meeting last month.

In a letter addressed to other foundation leaders earlier this month, Clinton Foundation President Donna Shalala laid out plans to spin off large portions of the charity’s programs to other groups in case of a Hillary Clinton victory on November 8.

Send an email to Megan O’Neil and Peter Olsen-Phillips.