Squeezed by Recession, Seattle Foundations to Scale Back in 2009

The economic downturn has forced some of the Seattle region's largest grantmakers to curb their plans and, in some cases, reduce their giving, even as they remain determined to pursue an ambitious global agenda, the Seattle Times reports.

The region's largest foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced in November that it would trim its payout to 10 percent in 2009, lower than previously planned. Meanwhile, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the region's second-largest foundation, said that it cut its payout in 2008 by 24 percent, most of that in the last three months of the year, and doesn't expect to increase its giving in 2009. The foundation awarded about $22.7 million in grants in 2008, down from $29.9 million in 2007.

The foundation also announced that it was shifting its strategy and plans to focus on shorter-term needs in the region such as funding for foodbanks and helping nonprofits respond to the increased demand for their services. As part of that shift, the foundation is unlikely to fund research, advocacy, and capital projects in 2009, focusing instead on ways to make existing programs more cost-effective, said foundation vice president Susan Coliton.

The news isn't all bad for Seattle's philanthropic community. The city now has nearly two dozen organizations dedicated to the burgeoning microfinance field, while the Gates Foundation and PATH, a global health organization, are continuing to hire. At the same time, nonprofits that rely on gifts from middle-class donors, many of whom are trying to keep their jobs and homes, are anxious. World Vision, a locally based relief and development organization, recently conducted a phone campaign to thank donors and found that many had lost their jobs while others were facing foreclosure.

"There are urgent needs in many places," said World Vision spokesman Dean Owen, "but the foundation of our work is really long-term development and we don't want to jeopardize or compromise that. I don't think we're going to have to, but we don't know yet."

Kristi Heim. "Recession Squeezes Even Philanthropies of Gates, Allen." Seattle Times 01/14/2009.