Public Policy Forum Blog

Community giving's great impact

One of the great assets of Milwaukee is our community foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which supports many non-profit organizations, large and small, in the metro area. A recent report by the Foundation Center, a national organization that serves as a kind of clearinghouse for information on grantmaking, allows us to put our local community foundation in a national context.

The report looks at grantmaking by all 717 community foundations in the country and finds that as a whole, they had over $49.9 billion in assets and gave nearly $3.6 billion in grants in 2006. The community foundation which gave the most that year was the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which gave over $172 million and had assets of over $1 billion. When ranked by giving, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF) does not crack the top 25, but its total assets place it on par with many in that group. According to the Foundation Center, the 25th largest community foundation with regard to total giving is the Denver Foundation, which gave over $37 million in 2006 and had assets of nearly $492 million. In comparison, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's 2006 audit indicates total grantmaking of $26.9 million and assets of $528.4 million. (There are only four foundations in the top 25 of giving that have fewer total assets than the GMF.)

The impact of community foundations is dramatic in many areas. For example, nearly a third of all community foundation giving goes to general operating grants, which represent only a fifth of foundation giving overall. This is a lifeline for non-profits to achieve sustainability. In addition, many of the organizations funded by community foundations are atypical recipients of foundation giving: The largest share of giving from independent foundations goes to health-related causes, while the largest share of community foundation giving goes to education-related organizations. Human services also capture a larger share of community foundation giving than that of independent foundations. Here in Milwaukee the pattern is similar; in 2007 the largest share of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's giving was to health and human services organizations.

As giving from community foundations has grown faster than all other foundation giving since 1990, now making up 9% of total foundation giving nationally, it is important to recognize the role community foundations play in the life of local organizations. Especially in times of strained local government budgets, a healthy and generous community foundation can help ensure the survival of organizations dedicated to improving quality of life for our region.

Anneliese Dickman