Minnesota foundations and corporations donated nearly $1.7 billion in 2011, a jump of nearly 15 percent and another sign of economic recovery.

Most of that increase came from one-time grants awarded by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Even subtracting that, Minnesota donors upped their giving by 5 percent — the largest hike since the economic downturn of 2007, according to the "Giving in Minnesota" report released Tuesday.

"Philanthropy is kind of the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the economy," said Trista Harris, president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, which produces the report each year.

Foundation assets grew along with their giving, the report showed.

Grantmaking slightly shifted, Harrfis said. Grants to human services, such as food shelves and housing, which took off during the recession, were again running behind education, long the top philanthropic cause.

"An investment in education is an investment in the future, said Harris. "That means they are confident about where we now are."

About half of the grants were given to charities, arts groups, health organizations and other nonprofits inside Minnesota, the report found. The other half went to organizations outside the state.

For corporations, the figure for out-of-state donations was 70 percent, "reflecting businesses' goals of supporting their headquarters' communities as well as other parts of the nation and world where they have facilities and customers," Harris said.

For example, the biggest arts recipient was the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which received $7.7 million.

Rounding out the top five arts recipients were the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Opera Company, Twin Cities Public Television and the Arts Partnership, a collaboration raising funds for the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts capital campaign. All received more than $3 million each, with the Guthrie bringing in $6.5 million.

But plenty of smaller nonprofits enjoyed a fundraising bump that year, offering some relief from the recession-era layoffs and belt-tightening. The Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul, for example, saw grants from foundations and corporations jump from $771,000 in 2010 to $1.2 million in 2011, said Mike Temali, chief executive director.

The bump came largely because the center was awarded multiple grants to work with University Avenue businesses hurt by light-rail construction. It also works with other start-up businesses in St. Paul and Minneapolis, including those at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.

Temali said grants totaled about $1 million last year, and "hopefully $1.4 million this year." The worse of the recession appears to be over, he said.

Total giving in Minnesota — including by individuals — hit $5.5 billion in 2011, which was a 3 percent increase over 2010, the report said.

Individual giving was a mixed bag. More than $3.8 billion was donated by Minnesotans, or 70 percent of all donations. But that figure has remained static for the past three years.

The largest grantmakers were the Target Foundation and Corporation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, General Mills Foundation and Corporation and the St. Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation. The Margaret Cargill Foundation, which was just getting off the ground in 2001, had a particularly robust year. It gave away 475 multiyear grants, totaling $142 million, to YMCAs, humane societies, arts organizations and other nonprofits, said Sallie Gaines, spokeswoman for the foundation.

"The year 2011 was a one-time anomaly," she said.

For example, Margaret Cargill Foundation grants for 2012 totaled $42 million, she said, which is a more realistic figure for the immediate future.