April 9, 2008


Karen Eber Davis

In the last weeks, several people have raised questions about what foundations are doing in response to the current economic climate. How is the economy impacting them? Are they making any changes in grant-giving? Or, do they anticipate making any? To find out, I queried a dozen foundations. Here are their helpful answers:

“While each downturn is unique, like post 911, the commonality for the foundations we administer is their decision to maintain their focus, because there are ongoing needs,” writes Debra Jacobs, Executive Director of the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and eight other foundations. “The only change anticipated will be based on the performance of the investment portfolio, which may mean some may grant a bit less. Thank you for checking–hopefully the nonprofits you are working with are nurturing their individual donors, who tend to focus on their passions in downturns, rather than supporting causes that aren’t their personal priorities. People who know the joy of giving don’t stop giving; they just become more targeted.”

Eileen Coogan Boyle, President & CEO of Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Inc. in Palm Harbor, Florida answers, “We have not had a direct impact to date, other than of course the devastating effects on many of our nonprofit partners, and an increase in some of our operating expenses. We determine out total grant expense through a method that adjusts for market volatility, so while our investments have struggled along with the market in the last few months, that is unlikely to impact our total grantmaking impact dramatically, in terms of total dollars available.”

Boyle continues, “We have made some changes, planned before the current recession, which I believe will serve our grantee community well. For example, we have an increased focus on funding and supporting nonprofit capacity-building efforts. We are also more open to the possibility of providing core operating support funds to grantees.”

Carolyn M. Freeland, Executive Director of the Charlotte Community Foundation, Inc. in Punta Gorda, Florida shares, “the Charlotte Community Foundation’s assets are quite diversified, and while it may impact us for the short term, it should not be long term. We have our grant applications due on April 14, and all plans are to continue the process. We anticipate awarding approximately $60,000 this year to local area nonprofits.”

Marilyn Howard, Executive Director of the Manatee Community Foundation, writes Our (recent) “unrestricted” grant cycle took on a very human services slant – with more funding going toward homelessness prevention programs, emergency assistance, food pantries, help for disadvantaged children with summer camp activities, etc. It was a return to real “basics.” We received more than twice the number of applications from last year, requesting almost three times the dollars.” She also added, ” I encouraged all of our donor advisors to distribute this year. There is a tendency by many donors not to distribute when the funds themselves are down. We gave one grant early on, for the 20/20 Vista Vision program that is bringing 20 vista volunteers into the community to provide service as “employees” in many nonprofits. We hoped this “capacity building” grant would help agencies build and strengthen their programs and as a result, help them weather this more difficult climate.”

“By law, foundations must gift three percent of their earnings each year,” responds Lisa Kates, President, and Treasurer of the Kates Foundation, Inc. “If the market is doing poorly, then that will impact our portfolios, thus impacting what we must give each year. Nonetheless, we must make gifts. For us, I would say we will be more apt to give to organizations that we have good relationships with, that are fiscally responsible, and that may not have endowments to rely on. So far, we have not made changes in our giving, though I suspect we will be looking at many of the agencies that have gotten annual gifts and reevaluate.”

Nancy Gardiner, Director of Select Client Services at Hemenway & Barnes LLP, who administers Jane’s Trust, said, “Your question is a good one and one that I know many foundations are wrestling with. Jane’s Trust is a charitable lead trust, and therefore the annuity is fixed and does not change from year to year

Due to an increase in donors, the Community Foundation of Sarasota anticipates increasing the gifts it pays out this year. I spoke with Wendy Hopkins, Vice President of Grants and Programs Services at the Foundation late last week. Hopkins praised the many generous local donors in the community. She advises nonprofits to keep seeking funds. She also noted that the Foundation has the flexibility to help with emergencies.

In good economies–and challenging ones, strong nonprofits find resources to fund their missions. Your organization can, too. Please contact us at 941-924-4860 if we can help with any of your planning, facilitation, or grant needs.