Survey results


Staff and financial resources are important to monitor for smaller foundations who are looking to grow, and for larger foundations who are looking for the flexibility to diversify their offerings.

Revenue mix

Administrative fees charged for the management of donor funds continue to be the main driver of community foundation operating revenues. On average, Columbus Survey participants earn 70 percent of their operating revenues from these fees. There will, however, be differences in the extent to which community foundations of different sizes depend on different sources of revenue. For example, smaller community foundations may rely on direct fundraising and internal distributions to support operations to a greater degree than larger community foundations, who will see slightly more revenue come from alternative offerings, such as fee-for-service products. Surplus revenues earned by a community foundation can help add the capacity and flexibility needed to pursue foundation-led community leadership efforts that will typically not cover their own costs.

All respondents

  • Administrative
  • Fees for service
  • Fundraising
  • Fundraising
  • Distribution from
  • Other revenue
Size of foundation Administrative fees Fees for service Fundraising: operations Fundraising: programmatic Distribution from endowment/reserve Other revenue
$0-$25M 61% 1% 12% 7% 9% 9%
$25-$50M 74% 0% 9% 4% 8% 4%
$50-$100M 65% 0% 10% 10% 9% 6%
$100-$250M 75% 1% 6% 7% 6% 4%
$250-$500M 85% 1% 3% 3% 5% 4%
$500M+ 69% 3% 6% 8% 3% 10%
All 70% 1% 8% 7% 7% 7%

Operational expenses

It is typical for two-thirds of operating expenses to go toward staff capacity, regardless of the size of the community foundation.

All respondents

  • Personnel
  • Non-personnel
Size of foundation Personnel expenses Non-personnel expenses
$0-$25M 64% 36%
$25-$50M 66% 34%
$50-$100M 67% 33%
$100-$250M 67% 33%
$250-$500M 69% 31%
$500M+ 66% 34%
All 66% 34%

Surplus vs. subsidy

Though operating budgets continue to increase across the field – the median increase among Columbus Survey participants was 5.7 percent over FY18 levels – there was a slight decrease in the number of respondents who reported operating expenses in excess of revenues for the second consecutive year – 24 percent, down from 26 percent in FY18. Gaps between revenues and expenses are typically covered by unrestricted funds, though this has an effect on the flexibility of a community foundation’s business model, including their ability to invest in foundation-operated initiatives and leadership.

  • Significant subsidy
  • Modest subsidy
  • Breakeven
  • Modest surplus
  • Significant surplus
Significant subsidy Modest subsidy Breakeven Modest surplus Significant surplus
Surplus vs. Subsidy 7% 8% 34% 30% 22%

Expense to asset ratio

With assets having grown across the field in FY19, expense-to-asset ratios remained virtually unchanged from the previous survey year.

Larger community foundations achieve an economy of scale that results in typically lower ratios than for smaller community foundations, though operating model differences at individual community foundations will have an impact on this metric.

Field median: 1.2%

Funds per full-time equivalent

Larger community foundations tend to maintain relatively complex operating models, requiring a higher number of specialized staff who will be less likely to manage donor funds.