Foundation Funding: When the Grant Giving Gets Tough

Posted by Timothy Tiernan on Jun 18, 2012 4:15:00 PM

foundation giving, grant making, grant seekingThe U.S. economic recovery has been slower than a snail’s pace, and news about foundation giving over the past year hasn't exactly been the most uplifting news. What seems to be good news—the Foundation Center’s June 2012 report states that “giving by the nation’s more than 76,600 foundations totaled $46.9 billion last year, up 2.2 percent—is overshadowed by the fact that "after accounting for inflation, foundation giving was down slightly from the prior year.” It reminds me of jobs reports.

Though economic recovery is sluggish and shaky, creative solutions in grant seeking and giving strategies have emerged. In the heart of the Great Recession, The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that “some funders are giving more operating support, some are making more grants but in smaller amounts, and some are making fewer grants but in larger amounts.” The trend I’ve noticed is grant makers’ decreasing the number of awards while increasing the average amount.

Maine’s Portland Herald Press reported on how the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation granted seed money to the Somerset Economic Development Corp. to address root causes of societal ills—an emerging trend among the state's foundations. Such “kinds of grants ... can provide more than a one-shot boost to an organization” to “create years of benefits for a community." The Association for Small Foundations, on the other hand, recommends “10 Strategies for Tough Economic Times,” the primary one being “negotiating with grantees to give smaller grants over a longer period, and giving one-time ‘emergency grants.’”

At the federal level, the financial balancing results in increased competition for limited grant funding. For instance, FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG): Total grant awards have decreased in number from 2009 to 2011 (from 5,211 to about one-third that number, 1,714), while the average award size has increased (as I wrote about here), doubling over 2009-2011 from $97,447 to $199,447. Still, total AFG funding was $320 million higher in 2009.

What grant making trends have you seen? Whether you work for a grant seeking institution or a foundation, what grant making strategies do you find effective? Write me at ttiernan@ecivis.com or leave a comment below.

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Topics: Foundations, Grant Making, Foundation Grants, Philanthropy