U.S. foundations saw their investments drop by an average of 26 percent in 2008 amid the economic downturn and stock market collapse, but that hasn't slowed their charitable giving, a new survey has found.
Even the world's largest charitable foundation, Seattle's Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reported a 20 percent drop in its endowment in 2008. But it still managed to give away $3.5 billion, up from $3.2 billion in 2007.
The Gates Foundation wasn't part of the survey, but its endowment's performance has been repeated across the country.
"There's no group here in the nonprofit sector that was able to avoid these very steep declines," said William F. Jarvis, managing director of the Commonfund Institute of Wilton, Conn., which provides investment advice to nonprofits and does an annual study of foundations.
The results of the Commonfund study, released Thursday, show the 290 private and community foundations surveyed gave away an average of 5.8 percent of their assets in 2008, compared with 5.5 percent in 2007.
Nearly half the foundations reported increasing their dollar spending by an average of 20.4 percent in 2008, while 31 percent said they decreased spending by nearly a third.
The federal government requires charitable foundations to pay out 5 percent of their assets each year. Because assets are falling, many foundations announced at the end of last year they would cut their donations to charitable causes in 2009.
Things seem to be looking up this year for some groups. After dropping 18 percent in 2008, The Broad Foundations of Los Angeles have already seen the endowments improve 10 percent in the first five months of 2009.