Association of Small Foundations – New programme to encourage global giving

The Association of Small Foundations’ 3,000-plus members in the US give to a vast array of causes and organizations. But when ASF research[1] showed that just 4 per cent of their giving goes to international causes, a light bulb went on for CEO Tim Walter.

‘These small-staffed and unstaffed foundations give nearly $4 billion in grants annually,’ he said, ‘and they do so with great thoughtfulness and dedication. ASF can provide a real service by helping more of our members learn how to make international giving part of their grantmaking.’ Overall, international giving by US grantmakers has been as high as 22 per cent in some years.

Enter Christopher Harris, then senior programme officer in the area of social justice philanthropy at the Ford Foundation, an ASF funder for about eight years. He and Walter discussed how to present topics on international philanthropy to foundations that generally have all-volunteer boards and few if any paid staff. With Ford’s support, in 2009 ASF initiated a programme to educate their members about global giving and inspire their collaboration with peer funders abroad.

ASF did a snapshot survey of 37 members already active in international giving. The results: 70 per cent made grants in the developing world; 50 per cent funded in education, health and/or the environment; and 80 per cent used US-based 501(c)(3) organizations for their grantmaking. They made small grants averaging $12,500.

Says Suzanne Skees of the California-based Skees Family Foundation, ‘I’ve learned a lot on the job and been amazed at how uncomplicated global giving can be. We regrant through US-based 501(c)(3)s, set up multi-year grants, and form long-term relationships not just with the dedicated staff at the charities we sponsor, but also with families and villages near and far.’

Since receiving the Ford grant, ASF has convened an advisory group of members active in international giving, planned a webinar, organized a local seminar to be hosted in San Francisco, and developed a document called 10 Myths About Small Foundations and International Giving, which will be available in December on ASF’s website.

1 2008-2009 Foundation Operations and Management Report, ASF, 2008.

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