Foundations Weathering the Storm

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By: Stephen Pelletier

The economic meltdown has had a huge impact on philanthropic organizations: The Council on Foundations, an association of more than 2,100 grantmaking foundations and corporations, estimates that foundation endowment assets have shed some $200 billion in value so far.

What has differed, when comparing this recession to others, is that “it was such a drastic downturn in such a short amount of time,” says Monica Wroblewski, the council’s director of public relations. On the heels of the rapid change in markets, she says, the organization started fielding inquiries from members about possible strategies to deal with the changes—a signal that the council needed to take action. The council moved quickly to help its members weather the current storm.

In a letter sent in October 2008, the council’s board chair and president urged philanthropies to help their grantees assess how they have been affected by the downturn and assist them “in finding and crafting solutions that make sense.”

The letter also outlined what the council planned to do to help its members, such as developing a toolbox of practices to address what it called “the challenges of our time.”

Previously, in May 2008, the council released the first in a series of research reports focused on the intersection of philanthropy and the economy. The inaugural report documented how foundations are helping families hurt by the financial crisis.

The council also launched a new online platform, Economic Xchange, a community where the council and its members can share info, ideas, and resources that speak to philanthropy and the economic crisis. “Economic Xchange” was also the name of a track of sessions at the council’s conference for family foundations.

In November, the council went live with a new bimonthly electronic journal, Thought>Action>Impact, described as a “dynamic forum for differing views.” The first edition focused on the economy.

Rounding out its phalanx of responses to the economic crisis, the council has quickly developed a number of related webinars. A program last October, for example, featured council President Steve Gunderson and colleagues speaking about the impact of the financial crisis on corporate philanthropy.

Indicating that further programming may be in the offing, Wroblewski says that the current focus on the economy “is a huge priority of the council right now”—precisely because “that’s what is impacting our members.”

Stephen Pelletier is a writer and editor based near Washington, DC.

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Council on Foundations, economy, Foundations, recession