U.S. Foundation Funding for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Infrastructure 2004–2015

There are an estimated 10 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide. If NGOs were a country, they’d have the fifth-largest economy in the world.¹ The nonprofit sector in the United States alone contributed more than $930 billion to the economy in 2014.² Given the volume and complexity of civil society organizations around the world, a substantial ecosystem of support organizations have emerged over time to enable, strengthen, and evolve their work. These support organizations, also known as “infrastructure organizations,” provide essential services such as strategic planning; evaluation, assessment, and feedback; board and staff development; data and research; legal services; business modeling; and support for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They form a much-needed backbone for work on our most critical global challenges, enabling changemakers to be more effective in their efforts to build a better future.

In 2015, Foundation Center, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, analyzed U.S. foundation funding of these infrastructure organizations. It developed a taxonomy of these organizations and established research criteria for determining which foundation grants should be counted as infrastructure-related. The key findings of this initial research in 2015: U.S. foundation support for nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure totaled more than $1 billion or 0.6 percent of total giving between 2004 and 2012, based on giving by 1,000 of the country’s largest foundations.

The research—the first of its kind—garnered attention from the field, resulting in valuable feedback that led Foundation Center to substantially modify the taxonomy and research criteria. The study has now been updated to include three more years of data. The result is the present report.

¹ “25 Facts and Stats about NGOs Worldwide.” Global NGO Technology Report 2017. http://techreport.ngo/previous/2017/facts-and-stats-about-ngos-worldwide.html.

² “Fast Facts about the Nonprofit Sector.” National Council of Nonprofits. https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/ sites/default/files/documents/2017-Fast-Facts-About-the-Nonprofit-Sector.pdf.

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