Did foundations do enough to respond to the economic crisis?
Foundations have made grants worth $443-million to respond directly to the economic crisis since the stock market plunged in fall 2008, Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, reported during a session on the topic Monday afternoon at the Council on Foundations annual meeting.
Emmett D. Carson, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the moderator of the panel discussion, pressed Mr. Smith for a qualitative assessment: Was it enough?
“I think foundations did a pretty good job,” Mr. Smith said.
Over the same period, total grant making by foundations has added up to $60-billion or more. That’s well under 1 percent of total grant making going to respond to the crisis.
Mr. Carson contrasted the numbers and was not impressed. “You say that’s a helluva job?” he asked Mr. Smith.
Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and a member of the panel, said his organization found that 40 percent of foundations expanded grant making amid the crisis but that 60 percent cut back on their grant making. Even though many endowments took big hits in 2008 and 2009, Mr. Dorfman says, the declines came after years of double-digit gains.
He said in most cases the foundations cutting their grant making had been “irresponsible.”
Sue Santa, senior vice president for public policy at Philanthropy Roundtable, whose membership is primarily made up of family foundations, defended foundation leaders, saying they balanced the needs of charities against their fiduciary responsibilities to try to maintain value in their endowments.
“I think we did well, although there’s always room for improvement,” she said.
Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector and a member of the panel, said only government had the resources to adequately deal with the suffering caused by the crisis but that foundations could have done more to support advocacy efforts in Washington.
During the dark days of the crisis, in late 2008 and early 2009, Independent Sector pushed unsuccessfully for a federal revolving-loan fund to help cash-strapped nonprofit groups respond to growing caseloads.
“We had trouble getting foundations to support our advocacy pitch,” Ms. Aviv said.
“I don’t think we’re asking ourselves the tough questions,” Mr. Carson said at the end of the session. “When it says what we’re comfortable with, we hold it up. When other people look at our data, they see it differently.”