New Reports Shed Light on Payout Practices
and Expense Patterns of U.S. Foundations
New York, NY — October 23, 2012.
The Foundation Center, the nation's leading authority on philanthropy, has released new reports that examine the payout practices and spending patterns of more than 1,000 larger U.S. independent foundations. These reports provide an authoritative, unbiased source of knowledge to help the public and policymakers better understand foundation practice and to help foundations benchmark their own activities.
Understanding and Benchmarking Foundation Payout explains the concept of payout, which refers to the total amount that a foundation reports as its charitable distribution. (The law requires the vast majority of private U.S. grantmaking foundations to distribute at least 5 percent of their net investment assets for charitable purposes each year.) The report is the first of its kind to track payout practices of the largest U.S. foundations. It finds that during the period 2007-2009, the largest share of endowed foundations (46 percent) reported payout rates in the range of 5 to 5.9 percent, on average. Nearly one-in-five foundations had payout rates at or above 10 percent. The Foundation Center does not take sides on whether the minimum payout rate should be higher or lower — whether foundation assets should be spent down quickly or preserved long-term — rather it provides data and research to inform the debate.
"While the very top grantmakers tend to pay out close to the 5 percent minimum, there is surprising variation in payout levels of larger foundations overall, and annual rates are affected by drastic changes in the stock market," said Loren Renz, the author of the report and vice president emeritus for research at the Foundation Center. "Only by averaging these rates across multiple years can a balanced view of payout practices be realized."
The amount a foundation spends on staff, overhead, and other program-related administrative expenses is included in the calculation of its qualifying distributions each year. Benchmarking Foundation Administrative Expenses: Update on How Operating Characteristics Affect Spending considers how differences in foundations’ infrastructure, operations, and programmatic activities influence their spending patterns.
The report finds that whether a foundation employs paid staff is the single most important factor affecting its expense levels, followed by staff size. In addition, foundations that regularly engage in international grantmaking, foundation-administered programs, or making grants directly to individuals have expenses-to-qualifying distribution ratios that are roughly twice as high as those that do not.
Understanding and Benchmarking Foundation Payout and Benchmarking Foundation Administrative Expenses can be downloaded at no charge from the Gain Knowledge area of the Foundation Center's web site. To receive future updates on Foundation Center news, sign up here.
This research was made possible through support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
About the Foundation Center
Established in 1956, the Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed. The Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers and their grants — a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level. Thousands of people visit the Center's web site each day and are served in its five regional library/learning centers and its network of more than 470 funding information centers located in public libraries, community foundations, and educational institutions nationwide and around the world. For more information, please visit
foundationcenter.org or call (212) 620-4230.
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