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The UK: American foundations’ donor darling

The UK: American foundations’ donor darling

Is it all genetics?

So you’re a nonprofit in mainland Europe, and you’d like to receive grants from American foundations? Consider moving to the UK. That’s where the game is really played.

Let’s, for the sake of example, take the year 2011. While French and German nonprofits in that year alone received an in itself impressive $31 and $33 million  from US foundations respectively, UK nonprofits said thank you kindly to a whopping $235 million dollars from foundations such as Gates, Mellon, Kavli and Overbrook. Why the difference with other countries, to which UK nonprofits – and for what projects?

Let’s start with some good news. First of all – and I quote –

“surprises include the fast growth of giving to international affairs [from foundations] over the last decade, thanks to both an explosion in the number of charities serving this arena and an increasing cognizance among Americans about needs beyond our borders.”
James D. Yunker, Chair, Giving USA Foundation, Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2011 (2012)

The second bit of good news is that UK charities are doing great! While it’s impossible to flesh out each receiving UK nonprofit individually, let’s zoom in to the top 10 receivers in 2011 (out of a total of 337!):

Top 10 UK charities receiving US foundation grants in 2011

Top 10 UK charities receiving US foundation grants in 2011


As one can see, main fields of interest to US foundations include health, agriculture, children, education, environment, art and international development. Now let’s focus on the “lowest 10” of the chart:

Lowest 10 UK charities receiving US foundation grants in 2011

Lowest 10 UK charities receiving US foundation grants in 2011

An important conclusion from these last 10 (and many higher-ranked UK charities!) is that US foundations clearly give grants supporting UK citizens as well – not just people in developing countries. Compared to other countries, this number of “domestic” grants is much higher than, say, Dutch nonprofits serving Dutch people. How come?

Family and familiarity

The main answer may well lie in the genes. Because of the high level of “family” as well as “familiarity” with each other’s systems and customs, the link between the UK and the US is stronger than between the US and many other countries.

The only bit of bad news for UK charities is that the US foundation market is becoming increasingly popular. Not only European, but also Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Australian, South African and Argentinian (to name a few) are successfully treading this foundation path. With many governments suddenly and severely cutting down their aid to civil society, the market already seems overasked.

Conclusion: if you’re a French or German nonprofit and you still haven’t made any effort to enter the US foundation market, you should give it a try! However, if you’re a UK nonprofit and you’re in the same situation, then you should ask yourself why you never did.

Eelco Keij of KeyLance Consultancy LLC is a Dutch-American US foundations specialist, who resides in New York and often gives presentations on this topic in several countries worldwide.

Image: spirit of america /

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