Charities Are Also Thriving On Bull Market

Bankers buying vacation homes in the Hamptons aren't the only ones to benefit from the stock market's giddy climb to record levels.

In Baltimore, lines of threadbare men and women are also reaping the bull market's bounty - not in six-figure bonuses but in hot bowls of soup ladled out by local soup kitchens.

The meal programs are among thousands of nonprofit groups now receiving record levels of support from foundations - thanks to last year's stock bonanza. Because foundations are required to give 5 percent of their assets over a five-year period, that wealth is now beginning to spread far beyond the glass-and-granite confines of Wall Street.

"We were probably up 25 percent last year with our assets," says Francie Keenan, chief financial officer of the Abell Foundation in Baltimore, which gave the Maryland Food Committee $40,000 last year for its meal programs. "The increase in our giving is directly tied to that."

Yields produced by foundations' portfolios during the past two years are just now starting to be felt in programs on the ground. Among the benefits:

*The Maryland Food Committee intends to open five new "pantries" between now and September to give food to the needy.

*In New York, the East Harlem Employment Service plans to use extra foundation money to expand its job-training programs.

*The Children's Health Fund will use an $85,000 grant from the Robin Hood Foundation (more than double the amount it asked for) to expand its flagship facility in the Bronx. The expansion will allow the group to triple the number of homeless children who receive dental, nutritional, and medical services.

Nonprofits, moreover, aren't the only ones who are grateful for the boom: Foundations back everything from universities and museums to research labs.

LAST year, the nation's largest foundations raised their giving by 16 percent, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey, and 60 percent of them expect to boost their support in 1997.

Among the foundations projecting hefty increases this year are the Spencer Foundation in Chicago, which plans to raise giving by $3 million, to $16 million, for education research.

The Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, meanwhile, has budgeted a 53 percent hike in its grants budget. It backs projects in community development, religion, and youth.

And the James Irvine Foundation of San Francisco is projecting an 8 percent jump this year in its grant budget for child-welfare, conservation, and social-service enterprises.

Family, corporate, or individual funds provide the seed money for foundations, which then issue grants with the income earned from investments - an amount that totaled $10.4 billion in 1995. The Treasury Department has called foundations "uniquely qualified to initiate thought and action," and their backing has led to everything from the Salk polio vaccine to "Sesame Street."

But there are worries that the current boom will instill a false sense of security among recipients. As the current dip in the Dow is showing, the stock market will not always be buoyant enough to support a heavier load of private-sector giving - even though the need may be greater as the federal government scales back welfare and other services.

"There's only so much we can do, especially if the economy takes a downturn," says Greg Barnard of the Council of Foundations. "It's shortsighted for policymakers to think the private sector is going to pick up all the slack."

Foundations are already feeling the pressure of reduced government aid, Mr. Barnard says. "There have been increased calls from some quarters that foundations should pay out more or shouldn't exist in perpetuity, otherwise they're just accumulating assets.

"There's no question that as nonprofits get government grants cut, they'll turn to us," he adds. "But the truth is, private foundations don't have enough to make up for all the government cuts."

The possibility is daunting for smaller groups. "Foundation support is so important," says Maria Paglesee of the Children's Health Fund. Despite the generous support of Robin Hood, she says, "We're still not able to take care of everybody in need."

At Independent Sector, an umbrella group for grant-seeking nonprofits, spokesman John Thomas puts foundation support in perspective. "$10 billion is not to be sneezed at," he says, referring to 1995 foundation spending. He says 80 percent of charitable giving comes from individuals.

Though some nonprofits worry that individuals tend to give to high-profile charities and not smaller groups, Mr. Thomas is sanguine. "People, no matter how low their incomes, are givers," he says, adding that nonprofits and other groups threatened by government cuts should keep that in mind. "People do give."

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