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Philanthropy Booms, But Giving for Social Justice Stays Flat

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From 2003 to 2013, assets of charitable foundations grew by $321 billion. (Nat'l. Committee for Responsive Philanthropy)
From 2003 to 2013, assets of charitable foundations grew by $321 billion. (Nat'l. Committee for Responsive Philanthropy)
January 12, 2017

NEW YORK – Foundations receiving tax-deductible contributions are booming, but a new report says little of the new money pouring in makes its way to those working on social justice issues.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) report says between 2003 and 2013, which included the Great Recession, the assets of the country's grant-making foundations increased by more than $320 billion.

But report author Ryan Schlegel says little of that new money reached those who suffered the most during that same decade.

"While grant-making from the 1,000 largest foundations in the United States for under-served communities grew by a little bit, about 5 percentage points, grant-making for social justice philanthropy was stagnant," he points out.

The report defines "social justice organizations" as not-for-profit groups working for structural changes that will benefit those who are least well off politically, economically and socially.

However, there are a few fundraisers that give half or more of their grants to social-justice organizations.

Maria Mottola, director of the New York Foundation, points out that her organization’s donors get tax breaks for the money they give which, in a very real way, makes it public money.

"So, if we are privileged enough to have control over it, we should be thinking about whether we're using it for the greater good, not just in ways that are self-serving," she states.

According to NCRP data, 61 percent of New York Foundation grants go to social-justice organizations.

But Schlegel notes that, in the 11 years of the study, the 1,000 largest foundations gave an average of less than one-third (31 percent) of their total grant-making dollars to under-served communities.

"And social justice grant-making was still only about 10 percent,” he states. “And both of those are pretty troublingly low when you consider the challenges that are facing those under-served communities, and our nation as a whole."

The NCRP report asks if foundations will continue to enjoy generous tax benefits in a political climate that's increasingly hostile to inequality, or if they can change course to better guard the public trust they've been given.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY