How Much Money Is in Nonprofit Endowments in America?

About $1.7 trillion as of 2017.

There was an approximate total of $1.7 trillion in the endowments of nonprofit organizations in America as of the end of 2017, on the basis of publicly available figures. That’s about the same as the gross domestic product of Canada.

Of this, just more than $1 trillion was in the endowments of private grantmaking foundations in the U.S. and almost $700 billion was in the endowments of other nonprofit groups that raise money from private foundations and others.

More specifically, the endowment assets of America’s roughly 87,000 grantmaking foundations totaled $1.005 trillion in 2017, the most-recent year for which data are publicly available, according to their Form 990-PFs filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and analyzed by former Wall Street portfolio manager John Seitz of Foundation Advocate in August 2019.

Most foundation assets were concentrated in the largest 1,000 or so grantmakers, Candid president Brad Smith told The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The top five foundations by asset size held a total of nearly $98 billion, according to Candid and Seitz. They were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

(Above and beyond the private-foundation figure, assets in grantmaking donor-advised funds—which, if even only as a technical legal matter, do not have to be granted out and could theoretically remain there—totaled around $112.1 billion in 2017, according to the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2019 Donor-Advised Fund Report.)

The endowment assets of the country’s non-private-foundation nonprofits totaled some $695.952 billion in 2017, according to their Form 990s filed with the IRS and analyzed by Georgetown University’s Sandeep Dahiya and New York University’s David Yermack for a March paper.

Slightly more than half of this total was held by colleges and universities, with the next-largest amount in the “Education (other)” industry classification that includes private secondary schools. The largest non-private-foundation nonprofit endowment was Harvard’s ($36.45 billion in 2016); the largest non-education ones were the MasterCard Foundation ($9.4 billion as of 2017) and Shriner’s Hospital for Children ($7.3 billion as of 2017).


This article first appeared in the Giving Review on July 27, 2020.

Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
+ More by Michael E. Hartmann