Education Funding

Nearly a Quarter of Foundation Giving Goes to Education

By Catherine Gewertz — March 21, 2001 3 min read
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As the U.S. economy boomed last year, education remained the favorite cause of philanthropists, garnering one-quarter of all grant dollars given by the country’s largest foundations, a report shows.

An analysis of the giving patterns of private and community foundations, performed by the New York City-based Foundation Center, showed a total of $2.8 billion in grants to precollegiate and higher education, an increase of 19.2 percent over the previous year.

The report issued last week, “Foundation Giving Trends,” examines grants reported to the nonprofit research center between June 1999 and July 2000. While the grants were awarded in 1998 and 1999, the report refers to the period studied as 1999.

Overall foundation giving grew 19.2 percent—to a record-setting $11.6 billion—during that period, a phenomenon researchers attributed to the expansion of the U.S. economy in the 1990s and a stock market that remained bullish into early 2000. The center tracked similar growth in 1998: 22 percent more than the previous year, for a total of $9.7 billion.

For More Information

Highlights from the report, “Foundation Giving Trends,” are available from the Foundation Center.

Postsecondary institutions continued to receive a larger share of education grant money than did elementary or secondary education. In 1999, 61 percent, or $1.7 billion, of that money went to higher education, including graduate and professional programs. Twenty-nine percent, or $802 million, went to elementary and secondary education and related services, a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

K-12 education received 7 percent of all grant dollars, the report says.

The study traced historical patterns in giving to education, noting that foundations’ support of K-12 education grew steadily during the 1980s and shifted from private schools to public ones, with a focus on improving the quality of education. Funding to public K-12 schools increased overall through the 1990s, despite a couple of years’ decline in 1995 and 1996.

Laura Fleming, the executive director of Grantmakers for Education, a San Diego-based advocacy group, said it is important for foundations to support schools directly, but also to invest in organizations that help them improve, such as those that provide professional development for teachers and administrators, and nonprofit community partners.

“Especially with this push for accountability [for student achievement], funders are increasingly starting to see that we need to invest in and support schools from the inside and the outside at the same time,” she said. “They are starting to understand that what we really need is to help build the capacity to really make the improvements, to have all children learning, within and around the system.”

More Large Grants

Foundation Center researchers noted the continuation of a trend they had identified in the previous year’s report: the increasing popularity of large grants. In the most recent year studied, 169 grants exceeded $5 million. In 1998, 146 grants exceeded the $5 million mark, nearly double the number of such large grants in 1997.

That trend played out in education as well, with an unprecedented 106 grants of $2.5 million or more in that category—12 more than last year and more than four times the number of grants that large in 1990, the study found. Most of those large grants went to higher education; only 23 went to elementary or secondary school programs.

Grants of more than $5 million were up as well, from 36 in last year’s report to 46 in the new study.

The five foundations that gave the most to education were: the Lilly Endowment, of Indianapolis, $189 million; the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, of Atlanta, $112 million; the Annenberg Foundation, of St. Davids, Pa., $79 million; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, of New York City, $59 million; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, of Battle Creek, Mich., $52 million.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as Nearly a Quarter of Foundation Giving Goes to Education

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