December 05, 2008

Foundation Grants for International Causes Show No Signs of Slowing Down

American foundations gave more to international causes in 2007 than ever before, and — despite oscillating financial markets and economic uncertainty — such giving is expected to remain steady or even grow this year, says a new report.

The Foundation Center, in New York, and the Council on Foundations, in Arlington, Va., produced the report.

The 2007 estimates and the 2008 forecast are based on a survey of nearly 80 foundations that give the most to international causes, while trends in international giving through 2006 are based on grants awarded by approximately 1,000 of the wealthiest U.S. foundations.

The survey counted not only grants to overseas groups, but also grants made to American organizations for international purposes.

$5.4-Billion Total

International giving totaled an estimated $5.4-billion last year, up from 2006, when the tally was $5-billion, according to the report.

Also, international grants grew faster than overall foundation giving from 2002 to 2007. After adjustments for inflation, international support increased by more than 50 percent, far outpacing the 22-percent growth in total giving during that period.

The 2007 figure also represented a 70-percent increase from 2002, when giving totaled $3.2-billion.

Expanded grant making by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose giving outside the United States rose from $526-million in 2002 to $2-billion in 2006, helped fuel that trend, said the report.

However, the authors said that even when the Gates foundation is excluded from the sample, the growth in international giving still surpassed that of overall giving.

They point to several factors, including stepped-up giving by the Ford Foundation and other established grant makers whose endowments burgeoned over the past few years.

Other contributing factors include the emergence of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and other new or newly wealthy funds; and responses to such international disasters as the Asian tsunamis and the crisis in Darfur.

Of the survey respondents, nearly half said they expected to increase their international giving in 2008, 7 percent said they anticipated making fewer such grants, and the remainder estimated their giving would remain about the same.

But the signals were somewhat mixed: Of those surveyed, 43 percent agreed with the statement that “the current economic climate is likely to cause foundations in general to focus more on domestic rather than international issues.”

Another 33 percent disagreed and 24 percent said they “didn’t know.”

Other findings from the report:

International giving accounted for 22 percent of all foundation grant dollars in 2006, up from 13.8 percent in 2002. The share of international giving that went directly to groups abroad rose to 45 percent in 2006, up from 39 percent in 2002. At the same time, however, nearly three-fifths of survey respondents agreed that “the more demanding post-9/11 regulatory environment discourages giving to non-U.S.-based organizations.” Giving related to health issues captured the largest share of international grant dollars — nearly 43 percent — while funds for international development showed the most growth from 2002 to 2006. Sub-Saharan Africa received more than 40 percent of all grant dollars awarded to international programs run by organizations based in the United States. Funds to nonprofit organizations overseas primarily benefited sub-Saharan Africa and programs with a global scope, such as the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, both based in Geneva. Israel was the recipient of more grants — 825 — and more money — $106-million-awarded to international programs based in the United States than any other country in the world. Grant makers provided an estimated $123-million in 2006 for projects dealing with global climate change. Leading grant makers in this area included the Energy Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The report, “International Grant Making IV: An Update on U.S. Foundation Trends,” may be purchased for $40 by calling (800) 424-9836. Orders can also be placed through the Foundation Center’s Web site.