News and analysis
July 26, 2017

How The Chronicle Analyzed the Growth of Endowments

The Chronicle examined more than 1,600 endowments of 501(c)(3) organizations that electronically filed Form 990 informational tax documents with the Internal Revenue Service. The analysis included endowments of at least $35 million and counted unrestricted, quasi-restricted (sometimes called board-restricted), and restricted funds.

Unrestricted funds can be spent as nonprofit leaders choose. Quasi-restricted funds are those that a nonprofit’s leaders have chosen to set aside, often with a specific purpose in mind, but legally they can be spent at any time. For restricted funds, the principal is held in perpetuity and earned income is used only as stipulated by the terms of a gift. A donor who gives a large sum might, for example, dictate that it pay for a specific staff position at a nonprofit. Some big universities hold thousands of such restricted gifts.

The Chronicle’s analysis looked at groups with at least four years of endowment data from the start of the 2010 fiscal year through the end of the 2015 fiscal year. So, for instance, the Clinton Foundation, which started an endowment campaign in 2013, raising hundreds of millions of dollars, was not included.

Some figures were corrected based on information provided by the nonprofits; in those instances, the data will not match the Form 990.

Community foundations were included in the study. Private foundations, which file different forms with the IRS and are required to distribute at least 5 percent of assets annually, were not included.

Endowment growth for each institution was calculated by comparing the total of all funds in its endowment — restricted, quasi-restricted, and unrestricted — at the beginning of fiscal year 2010 with those at the end of fiscal 2015.

Contributions and positive investment returns are the primary drivers for increasing an endowment’s value. Grants and scholarships, as well as disbursements for facilities and other items, administrative expenses, and negative investment returns are responsible for decreases.

The data for this study and additional details on endowments can be found at philanthropy.com/endowmentdata.