U.S. Community Foundation Asset Growth Stalls While DAF Giving Outpaces Trends

The latest results from the Columbus Survey of community foundations, reflecting fiscal year (FY) 2018, are now live. This annual effort by CF Insights, a service of Candid, establishes a baseline understanding of where the community foundation field is today. It also helps inform those within the field who want to know how they compare with peers. This year, more than 250 community foundations, which together manage over 90 percent of the estimated dollars in this segment of the field, contributed their data to inform our findings, now available on our refreshed Columbus Survey Results Dashboard.

In 2017, a pattern of accelerated asset growth was observed across the field in an economic environment that brought strong investment returns. Due in no small part to 2018’s more volatile investment market, asset growth stalled for a significant portion of Columbus Survey respondents. Following a year in which median asset growth was in the double digits, the median for FY18 was less than 1 percent. The end of 2018 marked a rapid slowdown in the investment market, which is reflected in a split between community foundations with a mid-year fiscal year-end date (or earlier) versus those whose fiscal years ended on December 31. Community foundations whose fiscal years ended in June or earlier saw assets grow 9 percent. Community foundations operating on a calendar-year basis reported a median 3 percent reduction in asset totals for 2018.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs), growing in popularity year after year, continue to be a significant source of activity and growth within the community foundation field. A highly flexible philanthropic vehicle providing an immediate tax benefit for donors, DAFs accounted for more than half of our sample’s collective fundraising and grantmaking totals. Grantmaking from DAFs continue to outpace other fund types as well; for community foundations as a whole, the median payout rate in FY18 was 6 percent, whereas the median payout rate for community foundation DAFs was 10.6 percent.

As in prior years, the Columbus Survey Results dashboard highlights some of the operating model differences between community foundations of different asset sizes. For instance, due to an economy of scale, community foundations larger than $250 million in assets tend to have operating budget-to-asset ratios below 1 percent, whereas ratios hover between 1 and 2 percent for community foundations smaller than $250 million. For almost every asset size cohort except those with fewer than $25 million in assets, the median ratios are slightly higher than they were a year ago, an effect of slowed asset growth, coupled with increasing budgets that reflect many in the field increasing their focus on community foundation-led initiatives and leadership efforts.

In addition to survey findings, CF Insights provides lists that rank respondents in four categories: asset size, distribution rate, total (gift and grant) transactions, and gifts per capita. In the past, these lists only featured the “Top 100” in each category. This year, the Columbus Survey Results Dashboard includes all survey participants on these lists.

These sorted data lists allow community foundations of all sizes to:

  • See how they are positioned within the field in various categories;
  • Examine the relationship between their overall strategy and how they rank in the field; and
  • Enhance overall transparency by sharing their rankings with stakeholders and the public by email or social media channels.

Anyone looking to learn more about the current state of the field is welcome to explore our Columbus Survey Results Dashboard today at columbussurvey.cfinsights.org!

Join us for a free webinar discussing the results on August 21, 2019 at 2pm ET.

If you’d like more information about this or any of our other resources or would like to receive updates about CF Insights, visit cfinsights.org or e-mail me at [email protected]. We invite everyone to join the conversation, and even more community foundations to join the effort to tell your story.

About the author(s)

Director, CF Insights