Largest Minnesota grantmakers increase donations in 1997

  • Article by: PATRICK KENNEDY and JOHN J. OSLUND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 1998 - 10:00 PM

The rich are getting richer, when it comes to Minnesota's largest philanthropic organizations. And more generous.

The 25 largest foundations and corporate giving programs donated 31 percent more grant dollars last year than they did in 1995. Assets of the foundations that report assets grew 24 percent during the same period -- spurred by the 1990s bull market.

And while philanthropic observers report a groundswell of interest in giving among well-off individuals and families -- a trend reflected in a record number of private foundations created in the past two years -- it is still the big ones that account for the bulk of foundation giving in Minnesota.

The 25 largest private, corporate and community foundations and corporate giving programs in Minnesota accounted for 79 cents of every dollar donated through foundations in 1997, up from about 70 cents in 1995.

Jacqueline Reis, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, which monitors philanthropic trends in Minnesota, characterizes today's giving environment as one of "continued growth and energy."

The robust increase in foundation giving corresponds with the healthy jump in revenues reported by Minnesota's nonprofits. While foundation grants rose 18.6 percent between 1996 and 1997, the revenues of the state's 100 largest nonprofit organizations -- often beneficiaries of foundation grants -- grew 14.7 percent in the same period.

Reis, among others, believes the booming economy only partly explains the rise in giving in Minnesota. Social and demographic trends also have entered the philanthropic equation.

"I think there is a lot more giving going on. . . " Reis said. "I think that there's more information available on what the needs are in a particular community."

-- Will the giving trend continue?

"I think we are having a resurgence of people who care about giving," Reis said. " . .  it's more than just giving to your college or your church."

The question is whether the trend will continue. Although the stock market's decline in August and September has largely reversed and the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index are up for the year, the global outlook remains uncertain, particularly in Asia, Latin America and Russia.

The financial figures used to develop the top 25 list do not include that dip. Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, said a national survey of senior fund-raising experts in February reported a "very favorable outlook" for fund-raising. His center has another survey in the field now.

"It is too early to tell, but I think the optimism has faded a little bit, perhaps because of the slip in the stock markets. But at the same time . . . philanthropy grows with the economy."

For example, while Minnesota's largest foundations increased giving by 31 percent between 1995 and 1997, to $422 million, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 111.3 percent.

"My prediction would be that, when the market is moving up and down, that might be a time to step back [as a giver]," Tempel said. "Now if the market continues to go up the rest of the year, there will continue to be a lot of stock and transfer of assets to [foundations and nonprofits]."

Reis said the market's dip caused "some concern" among the large foundations. For example, the McKnight Foundation's assets as of September were $1.686 billion, down $22.9 million from the beginning of the year.

But "those with with large endowments are in it for the long haul," she said. "There was not panic."

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