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A First Look at Foundations' Direct Charitable Activities

November 08, 2007

Dca_reportThough anecdotal evidence suggests that non-grantmaking operating programs -- otherwise known as direct charitable activities (DCAs) -- within the foundation field have been growing for some time, actual evidence of the fact has been hard to come by. That's due, in part, to limitations of IRS Form 990-PF, which private independent foundations are supposed to file annually.

In an effort to shed more light on these types of activities, the Foundation Center has released a new study, More Than Grantmaking: A First Look at Foundations' Direct Charitable Activities (10 pages, 815 kb, PDF) that tracks the growing role of DCAs in the work of American foundations. Authored by Loren Renz, the center's senior researcher for special projects, and research associate Rachel Elias, the report found, among other things, that:

  • Foundations engage in three main types of direct charitable activities -- convening conferences and other events that serve a broad audience; providing technical assistance or training to grantees; and supporting the service of staff on the advisory boards of other organizations or public commissions.
  • Of the 684 independent and family foundations surveyed, half of those with giving of $10 million or more said they conducted such activities, and nearly all of those (95 percent) that operate such programs are staffed.
  • While more than a third of independent and family foundations rely to some extent on consultants to conduct their DCAs, foundation staff plays by far the principal role.
  • Community foundations reported far higher levels of DCAs (61 percent) than did either independent foundations (25 percent) or corporate foundation (16 percent).

Not everyone thinks foundations should be engaging in such activities, particularly when they involve direct service provision or policy formulation. (One of those is Douglas Besharov, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, whom I mentioned in yesterday's post.) I'll save that debate for another day, but certainly reasonable people can disagree.

In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more and/or want to download the report, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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