A sector update with a look at transparency. 

  • This updated research report shows that Catholic foundations continue to be a fast-growing sector in philanthropy in the United States.
  • We believe the most successful foundations will continually adapt and refine their strategic growth plans for the future, which will look at both investment performance and fundraising.
  • Flexibility will be important as they evolve in a changing philanthropic arena, as will transparency in their marketing plans as donors and families seek more financial foundation information.

In June 2021, Giving USA released its annual giving survey for 2020, and it was interesting to see that religious giving was up 1% over 2019 to $131 billion, which was the largest sector at 28% of all giving1. COVID-19 had an impact on giving patterns in 2020 as donors reassessed their giving during the pandemic; some nonprofit sectors saw sharp increases in giving while other sectors saw lower levels. The Catholic church had to deal with its challenge of reaching its parishioners. With church attendance limited, many of the Catholic dioceses moved ahead with virtual masses and their online/recurring giving programs. In some cases, Catholic foundations have been a key part of this strategy.

For example, The Archdiocese of Denver, through its Catholic Foundation of Northern Colorado, was adroit at building continued donor support for their weekly “TV Mass.” Their Catholic foundation was a very important part of this plan as a way to raise funds and support the “TV Mass” ministry, which has been around since 1966. They have had a very successful following in Colorado, throughout the U.S., and around the world. Their Catholic foundation is highlighted at the end of each service by one of their priests and a snapshot of the foundation is shown to their viewers; they also have a separate brief video update about the foundation following the service.

At Wilmington Trust, we view Catholic foundations as a key philanthropic sector that is expanding quickly. In our third study of them, Catholic Foundations Revisited, we note that Catholic foundations continue to advance and are a very dynamic sector of philanthropy. Our current research shows that there are approximately 190 (earlier study 182) foundations and that 83% of the 181 dioceses utilize separate foundations. Since 2011, 49 new Catholic foundations have been  formed and new foundations are being planned. In our updated report, we find that that only 67% of the foundations provide any financial disclosure to the marketplace (this compares to 62% in the 2016 study); this is changing as a greater number of foundations are now providing financials, IRS Form 990s, and  annual reports on their websites. 

As part of this new report, we reviewed the Catholic foundations in the United States to assess their current assets and growth trends. We spoke with four dioceses that are considering new Catholic foundations. We completed a listing of 190 foundations in the U.S.; this includes a full listing of their asset totals, ranking, and growth rates. We have also tracked the reporting policies of each foundation, which we included. It’s estimated that there is over $12 billion ($9.5 billion prior) invested in these foundations, with the average foundation assets at $49.2 million ($37.9 million prior)  (excluding Mother Cabrini Health Foundation), with the median foundation at $23.1 million ($20 million prior). Currently, there are 60 foundations (42 foundations prior) that have long-term  investment assets of over $50 million. 

We continue to observe that the most successful foundations take a holistic approach to their growth strategies, in that the focus is on both fundraising and investment performance to grow their endowments. We call this a strategic endowment plan (SEP) and review the key components of this plan later in the report. These strategies can help a foundation expand for the long term. As part of our endowment and foundation services for our clients, we can help our clients develop a SEP, which includes a peer review and foundation ranking.

Please see important disclosures at the end of the report.

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