The 20 largest charitable foundations and trusts in L.A. County lost almost $7 billion in assets last year - and the news could be even worse because the just-released numbers from the Business Journal don't take into account any losses for the first part of 2009, when the financial markets really nosedived. Of course, things have improved in the last six months, but assets are nowhere near pre-recession levels. All of which is prompting some unpleasant decisions.
The Ahmanson Foundation, which saw its assets fall 33 percent to $774 million last year, has decided to start funding only in supportive, rather than leading roles. It supports projects in the fields of art, culture, education and health, most commonly for construction projects and property acquisitions. "We like to see that a project is shovel ready before we step in," said foundation President William Ahmanson.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, named after the late hotelier, has funded a host of projects to fill "critical societal needs," such as services for the blind, early childhood development and substance abuse prevention. But when the directors of the charity, the county's sixth largest, saw assets decline last year from $2 billion to $1.66 billion, it held a retreat. Its decision: limit the organization's future efforts to two causes, homelessness in Los Angeles and potable water in West Africa.
Local organizations that have come to rely on foundation money are now scrambling. And in some cases, you're talking about organizations that provide food, shelter and health care to people who are poor or sick.