By Manuela Badawy
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Giving in the United States by private and community foundations reached an estimated $50.9 billion (31.3 billion pounds) in 2012, growing just ahead of inflation, a report released on Tuesday by the Foundation Center showed.
The group's report was primarily focused on results of its 2011 survey of foundations but did include the limited projection for 2012.
In 2011 the country's 81,777 foundations held $622 billion in assets and distributed $49 billion, just $1.9 billion below 2012's estimate, according to the Foundation Center's annual research study.
"The outlook for 2013 is for continued modest growth overall," said Steven Lawrence, the Foundation Center's director of research and author of the report for 2011 data.
"It may not be the boom years of the late 1990s or mid-2000s, but the good news is that it looks like U.S. foundations will continue to provide a stable source of support for new ideas and ongoing programs that improve lives around the world," Lawrence added.
The report shows that 35 percent of all grant dollars awarded in 2011 by the nation's largest foundations were specifically intended to benefit the economically disadvantaged. It also shows that health and education were the top priorities of the country's largest foundations, accounting for almost half of all grant dollars.
In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made the single largest grant of $967 million over five years to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, according to the Foundation Center, a leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.
"Foundations have been a critical source of stability for the non-profit sector throughout the economic downturn and in this period of economic recovery. We have not yet seen a return to double-digit growth, but foundation funding continues to be much less susceptible to cyclical economic changes than other sources of giving," Lawrence told Reuters.
In 2011 there were approximately 58,000 unique recipient organizations. The top 1 percent, close to 580 organizations, captured half of all grant dollars, Lawrence said.
The health sector benefited the most from foundation giving, receiving $6.8 billion, or 28 percent, of the $24.5 billion awarded in grants in 2011. Education came in second, receiving $5 billion, arts and culture received $3.5 billion tying with human services which drew $3.5 billion.
According to the report, $8.5 billion, or 35 percent of the grant money, was focused on the economically disadvantaged. Children and youth received $5.3 billion, ethnic or racial minorities received $2.2 billion, while women and girls received $1.4 billion.
The Gates Foundation, the largest in the country with $34.6 billion in assets, was the biggest donor in 2011 giving $3.2 billion. It has also been the top international funder since 2004.
Organizations located in California received the most in domestic foundation grant dollars, or $2.7 billion. Los Angeles-based University of Southern California was the top recipient. Switzerland-based Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) was the top recipient of international grant dollars.
(Reporting by Manuela Badawy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)