Foundation giving and payout: what changed in 2021?

Every January, Candid surveys large U.S. private and community foundations to understand recent giving trends and forecast where giving is headed. [1] This year, we asked funders about their giving in FYE (fiscal year end) 2020 and 2021, including funding designated for COVID-19 [2] and what trends they are paying attention to this year.

Here are some highlights from what we learned, followed by more in-depth analysis: 

  • Giving increased in FYE 2021 for most foundations compared to 2020, though payout was not as likely to increase. 
  • A combination of community needs and asset growth appeared to fuel increases in giving. 
  • The data gathered shows that funders are continuing to pay attention to current events, including the pandemic. 
  • Of continued interest is whether projected giving this year will continue to increase, given current inflation and market fears.  
  • Several respondents indicated that their organizations are looking into more equitable, trust-based practices, inspiring cautious optimism that shifts in funder practice will take more permanent hold.

Top takeaways on FYE 2021 giving and payout 

Overall giving dollars increased from FYE 2020 to 2021 by 12% among 519 survey respondents who provided funding data for both years. (Comparisons of FYE 2020 and FYE 2021 giving are unadjusted for inflation.) Looking closer at foundation type, community foundations demonstrated the largest proportionate dollar increase in giving of 20%, followed by a 17% rise by corporate foundations and 7% by independent foundations.   

Chart showing cumulative increase in grantmaking by type

Just over half (53%) of all surveyed foundations increased their giving in FYE 2021 compared to FYE 2020, and about a quarter (28%) reported declines in giving. The rest of the foundations saw their giving remain about the same, which we calculated as being +/- 3% of their giving in FYE 2020.  

FYE 2021 giving compared to 2020

Like findings from last year’s survey, increases in giving were not necessarily reflective of higher payout. The average payout by independent foundations in FYE 2021 was 6.9%, and the median and mode were 5%.  

Of 359 independent foundations, 39% reported that their payout increased in FYE 2021 compared to FYE 2020, and another 38% said that payout remained the same. Only 23% stated their payout decreased. Among them, some cited that their overall grantmaking increased, but due to increased assets, their payout decreased. Others cited that the decline was an adjustment after much higher payout in FYE 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, among the 81 respondents who reported decreased payout, 24 still reported a payout of 6% or higher.  

FYE 2021 payout compared to 2020

For community and corporate foundations who provided payout information about endowed funds, the majority indicated their payout remained about the same. Like independent foundations, several commented that although total grant amounts increased, their payout remained the same or decreased due to growth in assets.  

Looking ahead: 2022 trends 

The survey asked respondents whether they anticipated their foundation’s giving in FYE 2022 will increase, decrease, or remain about the same. In January through March 2022 when the survey was fielded, a wide majority believed their giving would either remain about the same or increase (47% and 44%, respectively). When asked to explain why, the most commonly cited response was that strong market and investment performances would increase available assets. If the market is the strongest indicator of how much foundations give, the current market volatility dampens these optimistic projections. 

Only 47 of the 530 foundations anticipated a decrease in grantmaking in FYE 2022. Three named anticipated market declines or decreased assets. Others mentioned returning to the pre-pandemic practices:  

  • “We expect to see a decrease due to decreased COVID rapid response giving.” 
  • “We are returning to our normal grantmaking levels in FY 2022.” 
  • “We had a large influx of government funding in 2020 and 2021, which we granted out in those years. We don’t expect to receive those funds again in 2022, so expect our total grant payments to decrease.” 

 We also asked funders to share what trends, in or beyond philanthropy and the social sector, they are paying attention to. Despite anticipated reductions in COVID-19-related giving, of the 346 foundations who responded, 54 are still factoring in the pandemic and related impacts: 

  • “Paying attention to concerns about the impact of COVID on mental health of children”  
  • “Virtual work and migration of work to home and/or transitory space. Disaster fund preparedness.” 
  • “Healthcare reform efforts and specifically community-based health workers; maximizing impact from state and federal COVID relief and resiliency funding.”

Almost half (45%) of survey respondents named equity and/or trust-based practices:  

  • “We are hoping there is a continuation for philanthropic organizations to simplify their processes and applications, be nimble, and to put less of a burden on the grantee. We want to see more organizations embracing a trust-based methodology and moving towards greater equity.” 
  • “We are paying attention to issues of equity and social justice; participatory grantmaking; and streamlining applications and reporting.” 
  • “We are focused on DEI on several fronts—including in our grantmaking processes, in the composition of the cohort-based programs we operate, in staff and board hiring and recruitment, and vendor selection.  

Without explicitly naming “equity”, funders also cited other philanthropic practices:  

  • “The importance of multi-year grants to build nonprofit capacity” 
  • “Assessing whether further changes to our grant processes and practices are necessary to ease burdens on grantees” 
  • “Alignment of investment portfolio with mission” 

Many are also paying attention to government policies and broader economic trends, especially as they impact the social sector and employment: 

  • “Federal legislation impacting DAF and giving incentives” 
  • “We are watching the rate of inflation as rate hikes are forecasted and generally watching the investment environment.” 
  • “We are paying attention to the impacts of the of the ‘Great Resignation’ on our organization and others in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.” 

Frequency of themes funders are paying attention to

Our thanks to the foundations that participated in this year’s Foundation Giving Forecast Survey. We conduct this survey annually and welcome feedback on what you’d like us to ask the field in 2023. Please share your ideas in the comments section below. 

[1] About the survey: From January through March 2022, Candid sent an online survey to roughly 4,000 of the largest U.S. private and community foundations by total giving. The survey focuses on large foundations because they account for the vast proportion of grant dollars awarded. In all, 593 funders responded (422 independent foundations, 122 community foundations, 47 corporate foundations, and two operating foundations).  

[2] Further insights about COVID-19 giving in FYE 2020 and FYE 2021 can be found in Philanthropy and COVID-19: Examining two years of giving, a report published by Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.