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Community foundations: Resilience in tough economic times 

Four business people having a conversation at a table.

At first glance, it would be easy to put a gloomy headline on the Council on Foundations’ most recent CF Insights field survey tracking trends in community foundations’ 2022 asset growth, giving, and the activity of donor-advised funds (DAFs). After all, according to data gathered from more than 220 community foundations, total assets were down 10% year-over-year.  

But considered in context, the 2022 results suggest a trajectory of continued growth from 2021—a year in which giving to community foundations increased markedly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for racial justice. While 2022 total assets and fundraising didn’t keep pace with 2021 levels, they were still significantly higher than 2020 totals, reflecting a long-term pattern of growth overall. And despite the year-over-year decline in fundraising, total grantmaking by community foundations reached a record high, illustrating their role as resilient engines of support in their communities.  

2022 assets and gifts down from 2021 but up from 2020

As widespread investment losses in 2022 impacted asset bases across the field, 84% of the community foundations in the survey reported some level of year-over-year decline in assets, with a median drop of 11%. Community foundations with higher proportions of pass-through funds, which are not invested and can be spent at any time, saw a similar impact on their assets as donors faced economic uncertainty. Still, at $112.7 billion, total assets in 2022 were well above 2020 totals.  

The community foundations in the survey raised a total of just under $16 billion in 2022, down 19% from 2021. About half of all respondents reported some level of year-over-year decrease in gifts received. But again, the 2022 fundraising total is still significantly higher than the 2020 total. So, even with economic uncertainty affecting some donors’ ability to give, we see in the 2022 data what appears to be a “return” to the previous upward trajectory.  

2022 grantmaking hits record high 

In addition, in spite of these declines, the community foundations in the survey collectively awarded $14.8 billion in grants, a new high following three consecutive years of increases. The median year-over-year increase in grant dollars awarded was 7%. Thirty-one percent of surveyed community foundations reported “moderate” increases (11-49% year-over-year), while 13% reported “dramatic” increases (50% or more) in grantmaking. 

This ability of community foundations to maintain high levels of grantmaking is especially critical during periods of economic downturn like the one we experienced in 2022. Community foundations are, by design, deeply embedded in the places they support, led by staff and board members who come from those same communities and possess a deep understanding of local needs and how those needs evolve over time. Even as fundraising levels decreased across the field, community foundations maintained a growing rate of grantmaking in support of the communities they serve.  

DAFs established by donors in partnership with community foundations and other sponsoring organizations accounted for a significant portion of all grant dollars disbursed in 2022. We will examine the role DAFs played in grantmaking during times of economic uncertainty more closely in an upcoming article later this spring. 

You can learn more about these and other findings from the 2022 annual survey in this webinar recording. The webinar also included a discussion with two leaders from the Park County Community Foundation, a small, rural-serving organization in Montana. We look forward to learning from our 2023 survey later this year the extent to which these growth patterns held as the broader economy stabilized following a volatile 2022. 

Visit the Council’s website to learn more about the CF Insights survey and how you can contribute to our collective understanding of community foundation growth and evolution. 

Photo credit: Fizkes via gettyimages


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