Are New York’s largest foundations committed to helping the most vulnerable in our communities?

Written by: Kristina ("Yna") C. Moore

Date: January 11, 2017

New York State is a philanthropic powerhouse. It houses 335 foundations that are among the country’s largest.

Our recent report titled “Pennies for Progress: A decade of boom for philanthropy, a bust for social justice,” found that less than a third of the country’s top foundations prioritized people and communities that need help the most. And only 10 percent gave toward social justice.

I got curious: Are New York’s foundations giving in ways that benefit vulnerable people and communities? Which foundations stepped up before, during and after the Great Recession?

So soon after the release of report, I asked my colleague and the author of Pennies for Progress, Ryan Schlegel, to run some numbers on New York’s largest foundations. (We also looked at a few other states, which will be the subject of future blog posts.) Here’s what he found.

High demand, not enough resources

New York’s top foundations, based on Foundation Center’s FC1000 data, gave more than $43.6 billion in total grants for U.S.-based programs from 2003-2013. Of this amount, 22 percent went towards supporting efforts that directly benefit the poor, people of color, women and girls, immigrants or other groups hit hardest by the recession.

It sounds like a lot. However, many nonprofits struggled to meet higher demand from those who lost jobs, homes and what little savings they because of the financial crisis.

I asked Ryan what he thought of the numbers. He said, “New York’s foundations – and others across the country – could have done a better job at being more responsive to community needs.”

Band Aid Philanthropy

People and communities that felt the impact of the recession the most were already grappling with unemployment, below-living wages, lack of quality education and other chronic social problems.

But grants to support community involvement in finding long-term solutions to inequities and injustice was only at 11 percent of total foundation giving during the same period.

New York foundations that broke the mold

The majority of New York’s largest foundations gave less than 50 percent of their grant dollars in ways that directly benefitted the underserved.

A number did step up by giving a larger percentage of grants in support of vulnerable communities. Among them: Ford Foundation, M.A.C. AIDS Fund, New York Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

Which New York-based foundation gave the most in support of underserved communities from 2003-2013?
Foundation Name Share of grant dollars for

underserved communities

The M.A.C. AIDS Fund 96%
Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc. 92%
New York Foundation* 85%
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation 85%
Tiger Foundation 80%
The F. B. Heron Foundation 78%
Essel Foundation, Inc. 75%
Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Inc. 74%
Ford Foundation 74%
The Ira W. DeCamp Foundation 68%
Citi Foundation 66%
Open Society Foundations* 62%
The Rockefeller Foundation 56%
Schlegel used Foundation Center’s FC1000 data to identify which among New York’s largest foundations allocated most of their grant dollars to help the women and girls, domestic workers and other marginalized populations.

Only 15 of the 335 foundations spent at least 25 percent of their grant dollars in support of advocacy, community organizing and other strategies that sought to solve pressing social, economic and political inequities.

Which New York-based foundation gave the most for social justice in 2003-2013?
Foundation Name Share of grant dollars for

social justice

New York Foundation* 61%
Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Inc. 58%
Arcus Foundation 58%
Carnegie Corporation of New York 58%
Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Inc. 54%
Open Society Foundations* 54%
Mertz Gilmore Foundation 51%
The Overbrook Foundation 49%
William T. Grant Foundation 49%
Ford Foundation 47%
The Nathan Cummings Foundation 46%
The Commonwealth Fund 46%
The Wallace Foundation 42%
Surdna Foundation, Inc. 29%
The Rockefeller Foundation 25%
Schlegel also used Foundation Center’s FC1000 data.

*The foundations highlighted above are recipients of the NCRP Impact Awards.

Don’t miss: National trends

Want to know which of the country’s largest grantmakers gave the most in support of underserved communities and social justice from 2013-2013? (Hint: A number of N.Y.-based foundations are on the lists.) Then check out Pennies for Progress today.

The report also digs deeper into a few interesting findings on community foundations and corporate foundations.

What do you think of our findings? Are you surprised (or not) by any of the foundations on this list?

Yna C. Moore is senior director of communications at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow @ynamoore and @NCRP on Twitter.