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How much have foundations grown and why is that important?

Following a period of decline in the rate of foundation establishment during the 1970s, the 1980s witnessed a dramatic rebound in foundation creation. Three factors contributed to this growth: the loosening of some of the more severe requirements of the 1969 Tax Act; a tremendous increase in personal wealth; and a more favorable attitude toward foundations among donors. This growth continued throughout the 1990s, but has slowed since the start of the new millennium due to the end of the stock market bubble, a recession, and an uneven economic recovery.

  • Over half of larger foundations were formed after 1989.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, the number of active grantmaking foundations more than doubled from approximately 32,000 to over 76,000.
  • In this same time period, assets of active grantmaking foundations jumped from $142.5 billion to $644.0 billion.
  • Following the rise of assets, giving more than quintupled from $8.7 billion in 1990 to $45.9 billion in 2010.
  • According to the Foundation Center's estimates for 2011, giving increased to $46.9 billion, up 2.2 percent from 2010.
  • Adjusting for inflation, giving more than tripled between 1990 and 2010.
The importance of foundation growth lies in its promise for the future. The larger the foundation world, the greater the resources that will be available to the nonprofit sector. While not all nonprofits will benefit equally from these resources, more foundation support will reach communities in the United States and overseas than ever before.
View chart on the Change in Foundation Giving, 2000 to 2011.

Growth of Foundations, 1990 to 2010*
  1990 2010 Change
No. of Foundations 32,401 76,610 136%
Total Assets (in billions) $142.5 $644.0 352%
Total Giving (in billions) $8.7 $45.9 428%
Source: The Foundation Center, 2012.
*Percent change in assets and giving represents current dollars.

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