Spending on Indian causes by U.S. foundations points to an unfortunate claim to fame: It dropped from 0.05 percent to 0.03 percent over the past decade.

The numbers, crunched by the Foundation Center of New York and Native Americans in Philanthropy of St. Paul, are a driving force behind a new study in Minnesota designed to help turn the tide.

The first “State of Minnesota’s Native American Nonprofit Economy” was recently sent to the printer. Although Indian nonprofits have a long history in the state, no one has ever tabulated their numbers, impact or locations. And those figures are needed to educate funders, organizers said.

“When I work with people, they say, ‘We don’t know what the Native American nonprofits are,’ ” said Dan Lemm, director of programs and financing for Native Americans in Philanthropy.

“Part of this is creating awareness of who they are and what activities they are engaged in,” he said. “It’s the beginning of the relationship so philanthropists can support their work.”

Lemm’s organization, along with the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, conducted the study and a recent conference to explore its implications.

Contributions by native nonprofit groups “are no small thing,” said Kevin Walker, president of the Northwest Area Foundation, which funded the research.

“They [Indian nonprofits] employ 1,200 people, have $69 million in annual expenditures, and range from remote reservation towns to Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Walker said.

The research found 89 nonprofits or programs that directly serve the American Indian community in Minnesota. They ranged from the 76-year-old Upper Midwest American Indian Center in Minneapolis to the Sacred Being Project started in New Brighton last year. The average age of the nonprofits was 20 years.

The report is expected to go online within a week at www.nativephilanthropy.org.