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A New Interactive Snapshot of the Community Foundation Field

June 22, 2017

Thanks to the efforts of the 250+ community foundations who answered the call to participate in this year's Columbus Survey, the CF Insights team at Foundation Center is ready to share the results of our fiscal year (FY) 2016 annual survey with the field and beyond. I’m thrilled to announce that the findings can be accessed through our brand new, interactive Columbus Survey Results Dashboard.

Known among community foundations as the field’s "annual census," the Columbus Survey provides a current, comprehensive financial and operational snapshot of the community foundations that participated. Their responses, in turn, allow us to report on community foundation activity and general trends in the field over the last year, as well as better understand how community foundations are sustaining their work.

The new dashboard captures the activity of over 90 percent of the estimated asset dollars held by the field and represents an exciting step forward, as it allows community foundation leaders, staff, and others to view snapshot data in a format that’s intuitive and easy to understand. In addition, the interactive environment provides users with greater control over which subsets of data are displayed, while the platform itself makes it easier for us to get the data and our analysis to those who need it, more quickly.

CF_Insights2016_fig1A few key findings did rise to the surface as we were analyzing the 2016 data:

Asset growth across the field was a bit more pronounced in 2016. After seeing asset growth stall in 2015, the 2016 survey results show an uptick in change rates, with the median increase across the entire field of respondents coming in at 5.2 percent, up from a virtually flat 0.7 percent the previous year. Solid stock market returns may be a factor in the increase, and it will be interesting to see whether this is the start of a new trend.

Reported gifts received by the largest 100 community foundations in the U.S. (by asset size) increased to a new high of $8.2 billion. The increase represents a significant recovery from 2015, which saw a decline in reported gifts received for the first time since 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession.

Grantmaking by the foundations in our sample, which has steadily increased for five consecutive years, now totals $6.8 billion. This shouldn't be surprising, as community foundations continue to grow their assets and maintain their payout rates. It should be noted, however, that this figure does not include the several other ways in which foundations invest in their communities. Even while engaging in such activities, traditional grantmaking by community foundations continues to grow.


There are key differences among community foundations of different sizes. Smaller community foundations, often younger and focused on asset growth, tend to have a much higher proportion of funds that are allocated to growth through investments, while larger community foundations have a far higher proportion of pass-through funds. In addition, the proportion of assets in donor-advised funds tends to increase along with the overall asset size of the community foundation. These two factors also reflect the ability of larger community foundations to provide flexible grantmaking options to their donors.

In addition to key findings from this year's survey, the Columbus Survey Results Dashboard also features our four top 100 rankings lists. Our Top 100 Community Foundations by Asset Size list shows the range in asset size among those ranked, while Top 100 by Distribution Rate, Top 100 by Total (Gift & Grant) Transactions, and Top 100 by Gifts per Capita allow community foundations of all sizes to see how they are positioned vis-à-vis their peers in various ways; determine how their overall strategy aligns with their rankings; and enhance their visibility in their communities by sharing their rankings with stakeholders and the public.

I invite community foundations and anyone looking to learn more about the current state of the field to check out the 2016 Columbus Survey Results Dashboard today!

David Rosado is the member services manager for CF Insights. If you'd like more information about this or any of our other resources, or would like to receive updates related to CF Insights, visit cfinsights.org, or e-mail David (dar@foundationcenter.org) or Diana Esposito (dce@foundationcenter.org).

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