Sunnier Outlook for L.A. Foundations

Sunnier Outlook for L.A. Foundations

New survey shows signs of increased optimism among Los Angeles’ philanthropic foundations, but uncertainty about the future remains.

James Ferris CPPP Director James Ferris
Photo by Philip Channing

Giving by Los Angeles’ philanthropic foundations has stabilized while their endowments begin a turnaround, according to a survey conducted by The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at USC. However, survey results indicate that the region’s foundations remain uncertain about the future as a return to 2008 asset levels is predicted to still be more than a few years away.

“There remains much uncertainty about what the future holds,” said James M. Ferris, Director of The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy, “However, with the stability, foundations are more focused on their strategic priorities.”

A total of 25 of Los Angeles’ Top 100 foundations responded to the survey, which was distributed in summer 2010. These respondents account for 34% of giving in Los Angeles and 38% of the assets from Los Angeles Foundations in 2008. The Center also surveyed smaller and midsized private and family foundations to gauge the extent to which their trends in giving reflect those of the larger foundations. Thirteen small and midsize foundations responded to the survey and their total giving ranged from $200,000 to over $4 million in 2009.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Twelve of 25 of the large foundations expect an increase in giving from 2009-2010, with the net impact for all responding large foundations being an average increase in giving of 4%. Ten of 12 small and midsize foundations expect an increase in giving for the same period, with a mean increase of about 15%.
  • Thirteen of 22 responding large foundations anticipate an increase in assets from 2009-2010 and the small and midsize foundations reflected a similar pattern.
  • Giving by the large foundations is expected to increase from 2010-11 by roughly 6%. The expected increase in giving among small and midsize foundations for the same period is somewhat higher at 9%.
  • There remains uncertainty about 2012 and beyond. Nine foundations simply do not know what will happen. For those who made an estimate, six of the large foundations anticipate that their grantmaking dollars for 2012 will be greater than 2011, nine are suggesting that they will be the same as 2011, and one believes that they will be lower.

While the impact of the economic recession on the regions foundations and nonprofits is far from known, the Center will continue to track the economy’s effects on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and share its finding with the community.

This research is part of a larger project conducted by the Center updating the 2002 baseline analysis of Los Angeles Foundations. A resource for foundations, nonprofit organizations, and all those interested in foundation responses to the current economic climate, this paper is available on The Center for Philanthropy and Public Policy website at