Giving with a big heart

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — As a child growing up in Houston, Tex., Bob Johnston learned the importance of going beyond one’s means to help people in need. His father, a firefighter and then a long-time employee of the U.S. Post Office, and his mother, a bookkeeper, were devout Southern Baptists who took seriously the Biblical prescription for tithing and never failed to give 10 percent of their income to charity.

“They did that even when they definitely needed the money,” Johnston says. “That came off the top for them. As I grew older and realized the sacrifices they made to help people who were less well off than themselves, I asked, ‘How does a person who’s financially secure shows their kids this principle without the example of sacrificing?'”

As a teenager, Johnston promised himself that if he ever had children, he would create a pool of funds and involve his children in deciding which charities to support with that money.

Then, in the late 1990s, after co-founding AlphaVax, a vaccine-maker in Durham, and serving as its CEO and chairman, Johnston talked to Triangle Community Foundation and learned he could create a donor advised fund that would make it “possible for people of ordinary means” to create the type of family philanthropy he envisioned.

So he created the Howard Allen Johnston Fund, named for his brother who was killed at age 20 in an automobile accident.

Johnston and his four daughters, ages 22 to 46, have focused their giving from the fund on agencies in the Triangle that serve homeless people, and on local food banks.

“Food, shelter and clothing,” says Johnston, who is founder and executive director of Global Vaccines, a nonprofit in Morrisville. “They’re pretty basic. There are many people in our society who lack one or more of those.”

How things work

Johnston hails from four or five generations of Texans. His parents attended the same Houston high school where Lyndon B. Johnson, the future U.S. president, was teaching, although they were not in any of his classes. And while neither of Johnston’s parents went to college, they both taught him a lot about life and how to live it, he says.

“My mother had a pretty tough life growing up,” he says. “She was a very smart and very tough woman.”

His father was “a little more easy going, more athletic type, with a great sense of humor,” he says. “Hardly a day goes by I don’t quote him.”

From an early age, Johnston says, he was curious about “what made things work,” a fascination that led him to major in biology at Rice University and get a Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Texas.

Having been raised in a religious home, he says, “I learned that giving to other people, doing something for other people, was about the highest calling you could have.”

So from the time he was a teenager, he “always hoped that at some point I could do something in biology that would help the world or some small part of it.”

Academia and research

In 1976, Ph.D. in hand, Johnston got a job as an assistant professor of microbiology at North Carolina State University, where he rose through the ranks to became a professor and also an adjunct professor at what is now the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State. And in 1989, he moved to the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill as a professor of microbiology and immunology.

Then, in 1997, he co-founded AlphaVax, which initially worked on a vaccine for HIV but later switched its focus to making vaccines for viruses related to herpes — a shift Johnston did not favor.

“The biotech road is littered with with companies that tried to make vaccines for herpes-type viruses,” he says.

Vaccines for poor countries

In 2002, Johnston founded Global Vaccines “to harness new technologies to make vaccines for diseases in developing countries,” he says.

The nonprofit aims to address a gap in the market for vaccines, Johnston says.

For-profit vaccine companies typically license new technologies from universities that develop them, but then have no profit incentive to apply those technologies to diseases for which there often is little or no market, “so diseases that affect billions never benefit,” he says.

“We want to intercept those technologies, apply them to poor countries for these diseases, and see if we could make a difference in the world,” he says.

Global Vaccines has licensed two technologies from UNC-Chapel Hill, including one invented in his lab there that it continues to work on. It has developed an “adjuvant,” or agent, to increase the immune response of vaccines, including one for dengue fever.

Known as “break-bone fever,” the mosquito-transmitted disease is “absolutely rampant in poor countries,” with 400 million cases a year and 2.5 billion people at risk for infection, Johnston says.

Global Vaccines, which employs half-a-dozen people working full-time and part-time, has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

And while it has not yet brought a vaccine to market, Johnston says, “we’ve got a mighty big heart.”

Making life better

A big heart also could be a metaphor for Johnston’s approach to giving.

Philanthropy is “helping people who don’t have as much as you do, or who haven’t had the opportunities or for that matter the luck that you have had,” he says. “By that definition, everybody can be a philanthropist. The amount doesn’t matter; it’s the act.”

What inspires him, he says, are “ordinary people doing extraordinary things relative to their capacity, ordinary people going beyond themselves to do something extraordinary.”

Life in the Triangle

In addition to the Triangle’s “weather and livability,” what Johnston likes about the region is that it is “intellectually dynamic,” he says. “So many people have good ideas and they put them into practice here. It’s just intellectually a stimulating place.”

The region also faces big challenges. To deal with the traffic its growth has created, the Triangle has opted for the traditional strategy of simply building more roads, he says.

“That’s a big error,” he says. “We need a light rail system and we need it about a decade ago. If we don’t get on that right now, we’re going to have just the same traffic mess as Houston and L.A. and just about every city. We shouldn’t worry about where existing rail lines are. We need to build mass transit.”

He also believes the region need more affordable child care and pre-kindergarten education.

In his own childhood, “my mom was home,” he says. “My grandfather and grandmother were right across the road. My aunt was home. We just had a wonderful childhood. A lot of that was the contributions of our mothers and grandmothers. In today’s world, mom and grandmom are at work. They have to be. So what happens with the kids? You see the result of that.”

Impossible dreams

Johnston says he retired from UNC so he could devote himself to his work at Global Vaccines. And while he keeps a small sailboat on Albermarle Sound, he rarely finds time to actually sail it.

“My hobby is thinking about going down there,” he says.

But he holds onto the dream.

When he was a teenager, he says, he once visited some friends who lived west of Houston on a ranch with a lake, where he tried to learn how to waterski. When he had placed his feet in the skis and adjusted the tow-rope, the pilot of the boat threw the throttle wide open, and nearly jerked the rope out of Johnston’s hands. He initially stood up and skied for about 10 feet, then fell under water but held on for another 30 feet before he let go.

“I think sometimes I hold onto things too long, even as an adult,” he says. “I don’t know when to quit. There’s a lot of Don Quixote in me.”

But Johnston says impossible dreams are what keep him going.

His late wife, Jane Johnston, a nurse in the neonatal unit at WakeMed in Raleigh who died of breast cancer, devoted her life to saving the lives of children born prematurely.

“We both had the same goals,” he says. “But she had the reward of seeing positive results right away. What I’m doing is something now that might help people in 15 or 20 years or after I die.”

Building community by investing in nonprofit capacity

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

RALEIGH, N.C. — Marbles Kids Museum created a program to train its staff to help develop early literacy skills in visitors to the museum.

Triangle Family Services developed metrics on the use of its space that helped dramatically reduce the “no-show” rate among its clients.

Both Raleigh nonprofits were among 22 in the Triangle that received grants from Triangle Community Foundation to assess their operations, and among 21 that received additional grants to use those assessments to strengthen their organizational “capacity.”

The Foundation’s total investment in the effort, which included learning “cohorts” designed to provide training for participating nonprofits and help them share best practices with one another, was $330,000.

“Running a nonprofit is a business, and one with an extremely important outcome,” Pat Nathan, a member of the Foundation’s board, told 85 guests attending TCF Connect, an event in October at the North Carolina Museum of Art attended by 85 Foundation donors and nonprofits.

A similar event for donors and nonprofits was held in Durham and attracted 40 people.

Building capacity

Building the capacity of nonprofits in the region that work in the fields of youth literacy and community development is the focus of the first phase of a “People and Places” initiative Triangle Community Foundation launched in 2014 that also will invest in nonprofits working in the fields of land conservation and the arts.

The Foundation decided to make capacity-building in those four fields of interest its focus as the result of a two-year effort to assess its grantmaking with advice from donors, nonprofits and civic leaders from throughout the Triangle.

Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told donors and nonprofits attending TCF Connect that its dollars for making discretionary grants are limited and its donors want to see the “direct tangible impact” of grants from their funds.

“As much as we want to give from our hearts, we have to invest in organizations’ ability to grow and expand and be successful,” O’Keefe said. “We have to be accountable for what the return on investment is.”

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, discretionary funds available for grants to community programs totaled $1 million, or the investment income on 15 percent of the Foundation’s $189 million total assets.

“It’s important for us as donors to recognize that for organizations to feed more kids or buy more books,” O’Keefe said, “they have to be able to invest in their infrastructure, much like a business.”

Literacy, community development

Nathan, founder and president of Dress for Success Triangle NC and a former sustainability executive at Dell, moderated a panel that focused on the issue of organizational capacity and included Sally Edwards, president of Marbles; Alice Lutz, CEO of Triangle Family Services; and O’Keefe.

Since Marbles was formed seven years ago through the merger of Exploris and Playspace, hundreds of thousands of children have visited the museum, Edwards said.

“We knew we had such an opportunity to make such an impact in early literacy but didn’t have the capacity to make it,” she said.

So with a grant from Triangle Community Foundation, Marbles assessed its capacity in the area of youth literacy, looking at factors such as its staff and exhibits to determine how it might best improve its organization to better focus on early literacy.

A second grant from the Foundation allowed Marbles to develop and launch a program in collaboration with Motheread, a Raleigh-based national training and curriculum development organization, to train its staff to help develop the early literacy skills of visitors to the museum.

Triangle Family Services, which works to help families experiencing family violence, financial crisis and mental health issues, was looking for ways to streamline its operations.

With five business units spread across multiple locations and operating seven days a week, the agency was using a complicated process for assigning its rooms for clients to meet with its staff.

Triangle Family Services used an initial grant from Triangle Community Foundation to  identify the need to improve that process, and used a second grant to develop and adopt a “systemizing of metrics and measures across all program areas to make it simple and accessible” to assign space for clients, Lutz said.

The result: A reduction — to 5 percent from 18 percent — in the no-show rate among mental-health clients.

Gearing for change

The “People and Places” initiative is part of a larger effort at Triangle Community Foundation to find ways to be a more effective partner to donors, funder of nonprofits and resource on local community issues, Lacy Presnell, chair of the Foundation’s board, told guests at the TCF Connect event.

“When we work together,” he said, “we are stronger and can increase the positive impact we have on our communities.”

In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, he said, the foundation received over 220 gifts totaling over $25.2 million, and made over 3,700 grants totaling over $15.4 million invested back into the community.

In assessing its grants, he said, the Foundation found the biggest fields of interest that received funding were education, arts and culture, followed by housing and human services, religious activities, and health care, he said.

Today, with $189.4 million in assets and celebrating its 30th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of community foundations in the U.S., Triangle Community Foundation is “trying to stay in step with rapid growth in the region,” said Presnell, who serves as general counsel for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Retooling for impact

O’Keefe said the focus of the Foundation’s grantmaking is local, with three-fourths of all its grantmaking remaining in the Triangle, and donor advised funds accounting for nearly two-thirds of the grant dollars that stay in the region.

The Foundation has been retooling, looking for “how to best deploy the flexible funds that have been given to us by past and current donors, and how to put them back into the community for the best use,” she said.

In talking to donors, the Foundation learned that while they were “excited about the programs, they were not always sure how it connected back to their funds and grantmaking.”

And finding that donors already were funding programs in the areas of youth literacy, community development, the arts and the environment, she said, the Foundation decided to focus on capacity-building in those four areas.

Partnering for success

Jessica Aylor, director of community investment at Triangle Community Foundation, told guests at the TCF Connect event that partnerships with nonprofits is one of central roles the Foundation is playing.

“We are taking more of a partnership approach with our programs, trying to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits, giving them grants and putting them in learning cohorts” where they can learn from one another, she said. “Stronger nonprofits end up with greater impact in the community.”

Funding for the Foundation’s “People and Places” community programs that focus on youth literacy, community development, land conservation and the arts is available from Fund for the Triangle, created through gifts to the Foundation by donors “who wanted us to be more strategic in our funding,” she said.

Getting involved

In addition to donating money, said panelists at TCF Connect, donors to Triangle Community Foundation and to nonprofits have many other opportunities to get involved with nonprofits they care about.

Donors can contribute time as volunteers, either working directly with a nonprofit’s clients or in the back office, or can serve on boards, committees and task forces, they said.

At Marbles, for example, a donor could volunteer to help deliver programs or with committees such as one working on a master-planning process to expand the museum’s campus, Edwards said.

And at Triangle Family Services, donors can serve on boards, task forces or a facilities committee that currently is looking at how to get a sump pump for the organization, or can attend a coffee chat with the CEO on the first Friday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Donors, nonprofits and local residents also can attend the Foundation’s What Matters event on April 1, 2015, that will feature stories about giving and data on the Triangle, and will focus on “how the region is changing and how to be thinking for years ahead,” Aylor said.

This past April, the What Matters event attracted 500 people and focused on community innovation.

“Community foundations,” she said, “are places for people to learn together and support causes they care about.”

O’Keefe agreed.

“The community foundation field is about connecting resources to opportunities and needs,” she said. “The more we learn together, the more work we can do.”

Donor advised fund focuses on Chatham County

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

FEARRINGTON VILLAGE, N.C. — Chatham Outreach Alliance, a food bank in Pittsboro, provides a summer feeding program for kids.

Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services, also in Pittsboro, provides services to battered women and sexual assault victims.

And Boys and Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont, in Siler City, provides a safe place for young people to learn and grow.

All three nonprofits are among dozens in Chatham County that have received a total of over $1 million since 2008 from the Arthur Carlsen Charitable Fund, a donor advised fund the late Arthur Carlsen established at Triangle Community Foundation to benefit nonprofits based or operating in Chatham County.

“There is a trickle effect of one man’s decision to give, and it’s visible here in Chatham County,” says Carl Thompson, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and director of continuing education for the Chatham County campus of Central Carolinas Community College “Because of his deep care and concern for his fellow residents, he has made a difference in Chatham  County that continues to grow.”

Thompson spoke September 10 at a reception the Foundation hosted at The Garden Terrace at Fearrington Village to celebrate the milestone the Carlsen Fund has passed in awarding over $1 million grants.

Carlsen, who died in September 2006, one month shy of his 91st birthday, was a retailer who was born in New York City and settled in North Carolina with his wife, Alice Lee Yeats, who predeceased him. He spent his final years in Fearrington Village, had no blood relatives, and left the majority of his accumulated wealth to the Foundation.

He set up the fund to benefit Fearrington Cares, which provides support, services and programs for residents of Fearrington Village, and to support other community organizations.

Grants from the Carlsen Fund have supported direct human services, the arts, food security, and education, among other causes.

Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund reflects the Foundation’s commitment to serving diverse needs in the region.

“While the Foundation has a regional focus on the Triangle, we understand that each community has very diverse qualities that make it unique,” she told 50 guests attending the reception. “It is vital to us that we continue to learn about these specific needs alongside each of you, as our region grows and changes.”

Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at the Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund is one of the largest sources of philanthropy for Chatham County and accounts for roughly half the Foundation’s annual giving to support causes in the county.

The fund also represents one of the few sources of general operating support for nonprofits in the county, she says.

Thompson, who was born and raised in Chatham County and served for 16 years on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, says that, on paper, the county would seem to be “very prosperous.”

It trails only four of North Carolina’s other 99 counties in per-capita income, for example, while its education level per-capita also ranks among the highest in the state and its unemployment rate among the lowest.

But the the western part of the county is a different story, he says, with much lower income and education per-capita, and slightly higher unemployment.

With growing global competition, he says, parts of the county like Siler City “lost a lot of industry and manufacturing plants,” and are home to “a lot of vacant buildings and lost jobs.”

Nonprofits in the county provide people in need with critical services such as education, including literacy, and basic services such as food, Thompson says.

And while the Carlsen Fund represents one of the county’s largest sources of philanthropy, more support is needed, he says.

“We know we can’t do it alone,” he said at the reception. “The legacy of Arthur Carlsen is strong and impactful, but we need continued support in this community to make his dreams a reality — and enhance the lives of all who live here.”

Black giving aims to bridge philanthropy gap

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]

In Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University is developing an exhibition on black philanthropy that will tour college campuses starting next January in an effort to engage younger generations earlier in giving.

In Raleigh, the Wake County Public School System has studied the high rate at which black males are suspended from school.

Instrumental in kickstarting and helping to develop both efforts are black giving circles in which African Americans pool their dollars and know-how to support and get involved with causes they care about.

African-American giving has been the focus of Black Philanthropy Month in August, and will be spotlighted in Durham in October for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Community Investment Network, a national network of black giving circles. [Triangle Community Foundation is a sponsor of the event.]

“We are philanthropists, affirming a fact and a long legacy, and inspiring people to step up and embrace that fact in how they give, and to engage in community change,” says Valaida Fullwood, a Charlotte-based writer and consultant who is serving as the Network’s interim executive director.

With roughly 20 member giving circles throughout the U.S. with a total of about 260 individual members, including more than half-a-dozen circles in North Carolina, the Network represents a shift in philanthropy from a focus mainly on dollars to a focus on “leadership development for members through grantmaking experience and donor education that giving circles provide,” Fullwood says

The organizer and one of 17 founders in 2006 of New Generation of African American Philanthropists Charlotte, a giving circle at Foundation for the Carolinas, Fullwood also is the author of Giving Back, a 2011 book about traditions of giving and philanthropy in the  African-American community.

She has visited 22 cities in 12 states, championing black giving at 60 forums hosted by community foundations, churches, museums and other groups.

Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at Triangle Community Foundation, which is home to five African-American giving circles, says giving circles represent an “on-ramp for all communities of color” to institutional philanthropy.

“The definition of philanthropy traditionally has been very narrow and not very inclusive of any group of color,” she says. “It’s typically defined as high net worth.”

A key goal of Black Philanthropy Month is to “broaden the conversation to include all people participating in philanthropy,” she says.

Working with black giving circles, she says, community foundations can “begin to identify members of communities of color who can be possible fundholders, or develop relationships with people in the community and bring organizations to light they might normally not have been aware of.”

Concerned about the high suspension rate among black males in the Wake public schools, for example, a giving circle at Triangle Community Foundation known as A Legacy of Tradition and comprising African America men, worked with the schools to develop a way to address the issue, she says.

Fullwood says that her giving circle in Charlotte approached Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black institution, about finding ways to involve younger African Americans in philanthropy.

That effort has led to $220,000 in funding from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, and Foundation for the Mid South, to support the exhibition on black philanthropy that will tour college campuses and also aims to involve students from kindergarten through high school.

Her giving circle also has hosted local forums on black philanthropy that have focused on topics such as planned giving, estate planning, collective giving and the history of black giving.

In August, for example, nearly 350 people registered for an event at Bank of America Auditorium that featured Emmett Carson, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, one the largest community foundations in the world.

His wife, Jaki Copeland-Carson, a consultant and scholar of black diaspora giving, founded Black Philanthropy Month in 2011.

“Part of all of our efforts is to reframe [philanthropy] for a new age, in a more inclusive way that includes a broader scope of giving — giving in all amounts, time and talent contributions, and the cultural competence in addressing community change,” Fullwood says.

A key focus, she says, is on “what it means to be human and, out of that focus on community and people, shifting the focus from the dollars to the people and communities that this giving in all its forms is trying to improve and transform.”

Investment returns grow for private foundations

Investment returns for private foundations grew to an average of 15.6 percent in 2013, net of fees, marking the second straight year of double-digit average returns, a new study says.

That growth compares to average returns of 12 percent in 2012 and average losses of 0.7 percent in 2011, says the 2013 Council on Foundations-Commonfund Study of Investments for Private Foundations.

The study, based on data from 153 private foundations with combined assets of $94.1 billion,  says foundations with assets over $500 million posted the highest returns net of fees, 16.5 percent, compared to 15.5 percent for foundations with assets from $101 million to $500 million, and 15.2 percent for those with assets under $101 million.

Three-year returns averaged 8.7 percent, up from 7.9 percent in 2012, while five-year returns surged to 12 percent from 1.7 percent, reflecting the fact the the loss of 25.9 percent in 2008 no longer is included in the calculation.

Ten-year returns averaged 6.8 percent, down from 7.9 percent in 2012.

As markets have recovered, foundations are increasing their return targets again, cautiously, as they continue to rebound from the financial pain of the collapse of the economy in 2008, the report says.

“With double-digit returns for the second year in a row, private foundations have regained solid financial footing positioning them well for community investment,” Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, and John S. Griswold, executive director of Commonfund Institute, say in a statement.

Mission-related spending

Fifty-six percent of participating foundations increased mission-related spending, up from 47 percent a year ago, while only 26 percent decreased mission-related spending, down from 32 percent.

Asset classes

Domestic equities yielded the highest average returns, 31.8 percent, compared to 15.9 percent for international equities.

Returns averaged 7.3 for alternative strategies and 0.1 percent for short-term securities/cash/other, and a loss of 0.7 percent for fixed income.

Asset allocation

Asset allocation included 24 percent for domestic securities, down from 26 percent in 2012; 9 percent for fixed income, down from 11 percent; 20 percent for international equities, up from 16 percent; 42 percent for alternative strategies, flat from 2012.


The “effective spending rate” among participating foundations — the amount spent on mission divided by the foundation’s market value at the start of the year — grew to 5.5 percent in 2013 from 5.4 percent in 2012, returning the effective spending rate to the level reported in 2011.

Among all participating foundations, 36 percent reported an increase in their effective spending rate, 43 percent reported a decrease, and 16 percent reported no change.

Resources, management, governance

Private foundations on average employed the equivalent of 1.3 full-time professional staff devoted to investments, down from 1.4 in 2012 and 1.5 in 2011.

Twenty-five percent of all study participants, and 58 percent of foundations with assets over $500 million, employ a chief investment officer, while 73 percent of all participants use a consultant, down from 80 percent a year ago.

Thirty percent of participants have substantially outsourced their investment function, down from 38 percent last year, marking a return to the level reported in 2011.

Ninety-nine percent of participating foundations reported they have a conflict-of-interest policy.

Todd Cohen

Community foundations see growth in assets, gifts, grants

Assets of community foundations in the U.S., as well as gifts to them and grants from them, all grew in 2013 compared to 2012, a new report says.

Assets grew at nearly all the 285 community foundations surveyed, and 90 percent of those foundations now manage assets that exceed levels in 2007 before the economy collapsed, says Guideposts for  Growth and Aspirations, a report from the Council on Foundations and CF Insights.

It says donor advised funds continue to drive growth and grantmaking for community foundations, representing roughly 40 percent, on average, of total gifts they receive and grants they make.

Administrative fees continue to represent the most significant revenue source for community foundations, the report says, and operating budgets to continue to grow as community foundations invest more in staff and leadership.

Assets, gifts, grants

Total assets of community foundations grew to $66 billion in 2013, up from $58 billion in 2012.

Total gifts to community foundations grew to $7.5 billion from $6.9 billion, while while total grants they made grew to $4.9 billion from $4.5 billion.

Assets grew 15 percent for community foundations, regardless of the size of their total assets.

While big gifts can have a big impact on the average change in assets for community  foundations, the report says, overall there was no change in average gifts between 2012 and 2013.

However, assets grew 12 percent for foundations with more than $250 million in assets, while they fell 7 percent for foundations with $50 million to $249 million in assets, and grew less than 1 percent for foundations with less than $49 million in assets.


Grants from community foundations grew 11 percent for those with assets of more than $250 million, 13 percent for those with assets from $50 million to $249 million, and 9 percent for those with assets of less than $49 million.

Grants grew for nearly half of community foundations surveyed, and fell for roughly one-fourth.

Compared to assets and gifts to community foundations, grants tend to be steadier from year to year because of the impact of spending policies applied to endowed assets, the report says, , although the prevalence of non-endowed donor advised funds under management also can have an impact.

Donor advised funds

Community foundations surveyed hold more donor advised fund assets than Fidelity Charitable, Schwab Charitable and Vanguard Charitable — the three largest national providers of donor advised funds, the report says.

Community foundations held $20.3 billion in donor advised funds in 2013, up from $16.3 billion in 2012, compared to $18.78 billion in 2013 held by the three national donor advised funds, up from $13.6 billion in 2012.

While national donor advised funds received $6.6 billion in gifts in 2013, compared to $4.3 billion in gifts to the donor advised funds at community foundations, total grants from the two groups were similar — $2.9 billion from the national donor advised funds, compared to $2.6 billion from donor advised funds at community foundations.

Administrative fees

Administrative fees still provide the most significant revenue source for community foundations, regardless of asset size, the report says.

Still, it says, larger community foundations, or those with assets of more than $250 million, depend more heavily on revenue from administrative fees than do smaller community foundation, which count on other revenue streams like fundraising and disbursements from operating endowment and reserves.

Administrative fees represented 75 percent of $5.9 million in average total revenue at community foundations with over $250 million in assets, 73 percent of average total revenue of $1.5 million at community foundations with $50 million to $249 million in assets, and 61 percent of average total revenue of $447,000 at community foundations with up to $49 million in assets.

Operating  capacity

Over three-fourths of community foundations surveyed invested more in their operating expenses in 2013 than in the previous year.

And operating budgets that grew at community foundations operating budget increased 17 percent on average.

The share of community foundations that increased their operating budget grew to 77 percent in fiscal 2013 from 72 percent in fiscal 2012 and 2011, 48 percent in fiscal 2010, and 54 percent in fiscal 2009.

Spending on staff

Costs associated with staff salaries and benefits represented roughly two-thirds of total  community foundation expenses in fiscal 2013, on average, regardless of asset size.

Average staff size, and staff costs as a share of total costs, were 39 and 64 percent, respectively, at community foundations with over $250 million in assets, 12 and 62 percent at community foundations with $50 million to $249 million in assets, and 4 and 61 percent at community foundations with less than $49 million in assets.

Todd Cohen