News and analysis
December 15, 2010

U.S. Foundation Giving Overseas Dropped 4% Last Year, Study Finds

By Eric Frazier

Despite the down economy, the amount American foundations distributed for international purposes dipped by far less than giving to other causes last year, according to a new report from the Foundation Center and the Council on Foundations.

Foundations in the United States gave $6.7-billion last year for international purposes, a drop of 4 percent from 2008 totals. Over all last year, foundation giving declined by an estimated 8.4 percent after grant makers nationwide lost a total of 17 percent of their assets due to the recession.

“Contrary to some fears, foundations did not abandon international grant making during the economic crisis,” said Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center. “These findings demonstrate their firm commitment to addressing global issues.”

However, the key reason that happened is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the nation’s wealthiest grant maker, awarded more than $2.7-billion overseas. If Gates was excluded from the estimates of 2009 overseas grant making, then foundation giving would have declined by more than 9 percent, the center said.

Health Causes Get Most

The study found that the nation’s more than 75,000 grant-making foundations sought to head off deep cuts in international and other forms of giving by reducing operating expenses and using endowments to keep grant making strong, among other measures.

To determine trends in giving, the Foundation Center examined a sampling of 2008 grants and found that health-related programs captured the largest share of international support in 2008, garnering 39 percent of all dollars. International development efforts received 21 percent of dollars.

International programs based in the United States received about two-thirds of the grant dollars awarded for overseas work.