The country’s largest foundations are contributing more money than ever toward international aid work. In 2015, the number totaled $9.3 billion, up 29% from five years earlier, according to a new report by the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center, whose analysis counts all grants above $10,000 by the top 1,000 nonprofit funders.
Overall, the State of Global Giving By U.S. Foundations report shows that foundations contributed more than $35 billion during the half-decade period that the report measured. A little over half of that sum came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives heavily to support health initiatives in the developing world, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. Other top funders included the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, Ford Foundation, Foundation to Promote Open Society, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Among the subjects being addressed, health garnered about 53% of all funding, followed by economic development, the environment (at 13% and 11%, respectively) and then agriculture and food security, education, and human rights (at slightly lower levels).
One of the biggest shifts in giving went to boost reproductive healthcare with contributions nearly tripling since 2011 to $1 billion in annually in 2015. The proportion of cash awarded annually to that work also more than doubled to 11%.
Natalie Ross, the Council on Foundation’s vice president of external relations and a lead author on the report says that’s probably related to the Obama administration’s 2009 reversal of the global gag rule, a policy that denied federal funding to nonprofits that provided abortions counseling or advocacy. “While we expected the legislative change to have an effect, because organizations that rely on U.S. federal funding faced a risk of losing that support if also receiving funding from private sources violating the restrictions, we did not expect a shift of this magnitude,” she says in an email to Fast Company.
Those gains are now in jeopardy because the Trump administration has reinstated that rule. Ross isn’t sure whether that will curb U.S. foundation’s enthusiasm to continue funding reproductive health measures but points out that the Gates Foundation has already stepped up to provide stopgap funding in cases where federal aid is disappearing in the meantime.
As the policy shifts around the global gag rule show, one of the drawbacks of in-depth comprehensive studies like this is that there’s still no way to project what exactly is happening right now. Ross says that Giving USA’s annual studies on overall charitable giving, which includes individual donors behavior can provide some clues. The U.S. as a whole contributed more than $410 billion to charity last year, with foundations giving nearly $67 billion or 16% of that total. That number was up slightly from the year earlier, although givers as a whole put slightly less toward international aid.
At the same time, one of the obviously underfunded areas appears to be climate change, which accounts for just over 2% of total international contributions from U.S. foundations (around $836 million in the half-decade they measured). The bulk of the funding is also perhaps not doing as much as it could to create homegrown groups that can work on solutions in their own countries. “Just 12% of international grant dollars from U.S. foundations went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented. The remaining 88% was channeled through organizations based elsewhere,” notes the report.