Community Foundations Survey Highlights the Peaks and Valleys of 2011

Data allows foundations to better understand trends and set performance goals
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Arlington, VA


The Council on Foundations and CF Insights today released the “Columbus Survey, Guideposts for Navigating Peaks and Valleys,” the field’s most comprehensive report on community foundation assets, gifts, and grants for 2011.

The data was gathered from 290 community foundations, including 97 of the 100 largest foundations, and represents more than 90 percent of total estimated community foundation assets. Participating foundations account for $53 billion in assets, $5 billion in philanthropic gifts, and $4 billion in grantmaking.

The survey reveals the high points and challenges of 2011, signaling a “cautious optimism” as community foundations continue to operate in an environment of economic volatility. Highlights from the report include:

  • Assets and grants increased for the typical community foundation, although the increase in both was more modest at larger foundations.
  • The average asset growth was 8 percent in 2011 compared to growth of 13 percent in 2010, though a community foundation’s fiscal year-end was a big factor in these trends, with FYEs later in the year experiencing lower growth rates.
  • Asset levels now exceed the peaks of 2007 at 63 percent of community foundations. Last year, this was true for only 52 percent.
  • On average, gifts to community foundations remained largely unchanged. Though in the aggregate, the largest foundations increased gifts from $4.0 billion to $4.5 billion.
  • While donor-advised fund assets grew by an average of 10 percent, gifts declined by 7 percent.
  • Half of community foundations increased overall operating expenses between 2010 and 2011. In fact, operating budgets have been increasing since 2008 at a majority of community foundations.
  • Administrative fees represent almost 70 percent of total revenue at community foundations, reflecting the fact that most respondents have diversified revenue beyond asset-based fees.

“As the standard bearer for community foundation data, this year’s Columbus Survey indicates that despite economic challenges, the sector is well-positioned to continue investing in communities and building toward the future,” said Jeff Clarke, Council interim president and CEO. “Since 1988, the Columbus Survey has allowed community foundations to garner an accurate reflection of the field and its ability to have a significant impact in the areas it serves.”

“The picture from 2011 reinforces the notion that there truly is no typical community foundation performance—it was a good year in many respects, though the field did not see growth across the board and results for individual community foundations vary widely. CF Insights has resources to help put individual community foundation performance in context,” said Rebecca Graves, executive director of CF Insights.

The survey data is free to participating community foundations and can be used to compare growth and performance to peers. Using metrics focused on asset development, grantmaking, investment performance, and sustainability, foundations can compare their 2010 performance to similar organizations and determine accurate and appropriate benchmarks for the future.

The Columbus Survey was produced by The Columbus Foundation from 1988–2007. In 2009, it was transitioned to CF Insights with the support of the Council’s Community Foundations Leadership Team.