US Private Foundation Data and the Total Resource Envelope

The development landscape is changing and the portfolio of resources that countries have to plan for their future development is more diverse than ever. Aid remains an important piece of the puzzle, but there is a need to capture a more complete picture of who is funding what, where and to what effect. In October 2013, AidData published data on remittances and foreign direct investment alongside our aid information for the first time. Today, working in partnership with the Foundation Center, we are taking a further step by integrating data on the activities of US private foundations into 

Why does this matter? US private foundations have given an increasing percentage of their grants to international recipients over the last ten years. In 2011, the most recent year with available Foundation Center data, 14% of the grants given by the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations went to recipients outside the United States. In 2004, this number was only 5%.

Given this shift in emphasis to greater international giving on the part of US private foundations, it is increasingly important to understand the scope and distribution of these grants and how this compares to official development assistance. Historically, we have had insufficient knowledge of private foundation flows, but this is now changing with the addition of comparable data available via our interactive dashboard on

The integration of Foundation Center data allows us to better understand where US private foundation dollars are going and the sectors in which these actors are investing. The map below shows the top funded sectors by US private foundations between 2005 and 2011 in each country covered by the data. Variation exists across countries, but several regional trends are apparent.  Much of the money from US private foundations going to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is directed towards the health sector. In contrast, general environmental protection appears to be the most prominent sector receiving investment in South American countries. Money going to developed countries in Europe is mainly focused on other social infrastructure and services.

Map of top funded sectors by US private foundations, 2005-2011

Map of Top-Funded Sectors by U.S. Private Foundations, 2005-2011

In terms of total dollar amounts, US private foundations appear to focus heavily on health-related funding. Other sectors receiving substantial investments include: education, other social infrastructure and services, agriculture, general environmental protection, and government and civil society. Much of the funding for these sectors, especially health and agriculture, go to Sub-Saharan Africa. The top ten sectors funded by US private foundations from 2005-2011 are shown in the chart below.

Total Financial Flows by Sector and Region from US Private Foundations

Total Financial Flows by Sector and Region from U.S. Private Foundations, 2005-2011

The availability of this data from the Foundation Center gives us a look into this previously unseen portion of the total resource envelope.  However, the data are limited to aggregate flows from the US to other countries by sector on a yearly basis. In order to fully understand the total picture of development finance, we need more granular data from more sources. We still have a way to go before we can see the whole universe of international financial flows, but the release of this data is an important step toward a more complete understanding of development finance.

Ashley Napier is a Junior Program Manager working with AidData. 

Tags: FoundationaidUSdata visualizationdonorsdashboardopen data