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Part IV. Humanities Funding and Research

Section C. Private Funding

NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Indicator IV-7 Charitable Giving for Humanities Activities
Indicator IV-8 Foundation Funding
Indicator IV-9 Revenues of Not-For-Profit Humanities Organizations

Private funding for the humanities takes myriad forms. Using previously published data, this section describes trends in foundation, corporate, and individual giving for humanities activities in the United States. It also presents a new analysis of data obtained by the Humanities Indicators from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics. These data describe the number and revenues of private not-for-profit humanities organizations, which are entities that use monies derived from various sources to promote the humanities or engage in humanistic activities. The general picture that emerges from both sources of information is one of considerable growth in private support for humanities initiatives, particularly over the last two decades.

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Indicator IV-7 Charitable Giving for Humanities Activities
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Updated (9/16/2013).

Little information is available on charitable giving to the humanities. The Giving USA Foundation, a research organization that publishes information on charitable giving, and documents charitable support for an array of sectors—including “arts, culture, and humanities organizations.” Unfortunately, this category encompasses a range of activities (such as the performing arts) that are not within the scope of the Humanities Indicators. These data also exclude key humanities activities, such as humanities education (which is tallied in an undifferentiated “education” category). Nevertheless, data from their annual reports provide the best approximation of the extent of charitable giving for humanities-related projects.

Over the past three decades, the most striking feature of the trend is the marked growth in giving from the mid-1990s through the turn of the century (Figure IV-7). From 1993 to 2000, individual and corporate donations to arts and cultural organizations doubled, rising from $6.8 billion to $14.1 billion, and then experienced another burst up to $16.5 billion in 2007. Giving then fell 20.7% the following year (to $13.1 billion), as the recession sharply curtailed charitable giving. Giving levels have recovered slowly in the years since (rising to $14.4 billion in 2012).

Figure IV-7, Full Size
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While the absolute amount of giving for arts, cultural, and humanities activities increased dramatically over this time period, so did charitable giving overall. After rising dramatically from just 2.6% of all giving in 1985, gifts to arts, culture, and humanities organizations stabilized at around 4.5% of total giving in 1995 and have hovered around that mark in the years since.

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Indicator IV-8 Foundation Funding
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See the
Note on the Types of Foundation Grants Analyzed.

Between the early 1980s and 2001, the Foundation Center, an information provider to the philanthropic community that maintains a comprehensive database on U.S. grant makers, analyzed foundation support of humanities activities using a definition of the humanities that is more narrow in scope than that employed by the Humanities Indicators. (See Statement of the Scope of the “Humanities”). In order to more fully capture the extent of foundation commitment to the humanities, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences convened an advisory committee in 2002 to review the Center’s humanities coding practices and to identify additional disciplines for inclusion. The Academy then commissioned the Foundation Center to examine funding trends over the preceding decade using this broadened definition. (See pages 13-14 of the Foundation Center report, Foundation Funding for the Humanities, for the original definition employed by the Center and a description of how it was expanded for this analysis.) The Center analyzed all grants of over $10,000 awarded by approximately 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations. These grants represented more than half of total grant dollars awarded by independent, corporate, and community foundations in the United States. (See page 3 of Foundation Funding for the Humanities for details of the Center’s sampling base; for an overview of the kinds of foundations studied by the Center and included in this indicator, see also the Note on the Types of Foundation Grants Analyzed.)

The Foundation Center report estimates that private foundation funding for the humanities totaled approximately $335 million in 2002 (Figure IV-8a; this amount includes grants for humanities-related activities in the social sciences). Almost half of this funding went for “historical” and “humanities-related museum” activities (24% each). Historical activities, as defined by the Foundation Center, included historical societies, preservation activities, memorials, and commemorations. Museum activities excluded those performed by or within arts museums, unless the museum specialized in ethnic or folk art or the funding went specifically to fund an activity related to a humanities discipline. (In contrast, the Humanities Indicators Project treats art museums, and thus all activities that occur within them, as humanities-oriented—for the types of entities treated as humanities organizations for the purposes of the Indicators, see Indicator IV-9, Revenues of Not-For-Profit Humanities Organizations, and the accompanying inventory of humanities organization types.)

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Grants for scholarship and programs in history (including archeology) represented the greatest share of funding (15%) going to a particular discipline. By contrast, grants for languages and art history activities constituted just 1% per discipline of the total funding, and about 3% of grant monies went to literature and philosophy each (the latter included a number of programs in applied and medical ethics). What the Foundation Center classified as “humanities-related arts, culture, and media” activities absorbed approximately 10% of funding, while support for “humanities-related social science” activities (among which the Foundation Center included ethnic and gender studies activities) represented 7% of all humanities grant dollars.

Although foundation funding for humanities activities and projects grew substantially between 1992 and 2002, this growth lagged behind total foundation giving (Figure IV-8b). While such overall giving increased approximately 50% between 1992 and 1997, humanities giving grew by 37%, and, while overall giving during the 1997 to 2002 period doubled, the figure for the humanities, 83%, was again smaller. The persistent disparity resulted in a decline over the ten-year period, from 2.5% to 2.1%, in the share of all foundation funding going to the humanities (Figure IV-8c).

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Figure IV-8c, Full Size
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Indicator IV-9 Revenues of Not-For-Profit Humanities Organizations
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See the
Note on the Definition of Not-for-Profit Organizations and the Note on the Definition of Humanities Organizations.

Whereas Indicator IV-8, Foundation Funding, deals with foundations that give at least a portion of their monies for humanities activities, this indicator focuses on the many other private, not-for-profit entities that together with such foundations constitute the humanities not-for-profit sector in the United States. Using funding from either governmental or private sources (usually both) either to engage in or to promote humanistic endeavors, these organizations are extremely diverse in both their focus and size, ranging from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to the nation’s 56 state humanities councils. (For more detailed revenue data for the councils, see Indicator IV-3, State Humanities Council Revenues). They also include many small “friends of” associations, such as those that help libraries around the country maintain their collections or that provide summer reading programs for neighborhood children.

The data presented here were compiled by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) from the IRS’s Form 990 Return Transaction Files. Form 990, which must be completed annually by every tax-exempt public charity with revenues normally in excess of $25,000, describes these organizations’ financial condition, activities, and key personnel. In analyzing this information, the NCCS employs the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE), a widely used categorization scheme developed by NCCS, to distinguish among the various kinds of organizations on the basis of their primary mission. While the NTEE includes a category for the humanities, other types of organizations that the Humanities Indicators consider to fall within this category, such as museums and libraries, are classified separately within the NTEE. At the request of the Humanities Indicators’ data analysis team, the NCCS assembled information on all tax-exempt humanities organizations that fall within the Humanities Indicators’ purview at five-year intervals going back as many years as the NCCS database permitted. This yielded data for a 15-year period extending from 1989 to 2004. (For an inventory of the kinds of institutions and groups considered "humanities organizations" for the purposes of this indicator, and examples of the types of organizations included in each of the broad categories of humanities organizations described below, see the Note on the Definition of Humanities Organizations; the humanities not-for-profit sector as defined here does not include private not-for-profit educational programs or institutions.)

The Humanities Indicators’ preliminary analysis of these data, which is presented here, focused on the number and revenues of these organizations, the characteristics of major organizational subsectors (e.g., historical organizations or libraries), and the distribution of revenue dollars among these subsectors. Any subsequent editions of the Indicators will delve further into the data to investigate the human resources of these organizations, as well as their sources of funding.

The preliminary analysis found that between 1989 and 2004, both the number of not-for-profit humanities organizations and their total revenues grew substantially (Figure IV-9a), with most of the growth taking place between 1994 and 1999. During that five-year period, the number of humanities organizations increased by 44%, while the increase in reported revenues was approximately 60%. The picture for the entire 15-year period, however, is different: the number of organizations grew faster, more than doubling between 1989 and 2004.

The fact that the number of organizations grew more quickly than their resources is evident from the decrease in their typical1 revenues over the time period (Figure IV-9b). In 1989, humanities organizations typically reported revenues ranging from $78,000 to $443,000, with median revenues amounting to $163,000. By 2004, humanities organizations typically reported revenues ranging from $42,000 to $264,000, with median revenues of $88,000. Thus by the end of the 15-year period, the universe of humanities not-for-profits was much larger, but populated by more modestly financed organizations. (Had data on the many small humanities organizations with revenues less than $25,000 been available, the median revenue level for the entire period would have been even lower.)

Figure IV-9a, Full Size
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Figure IV-9b, Full Size
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As Figure IV-9b also demonstrates, there was a considerable range in the amount of revenue reported by individual humanities organizations. In 2004, the minimum revenue was a deficit of over $5 million, while the maximum revenue was in excess of $300 million (the figure is not to scale with respect to the minimum and maximum revenues). But throughout the period, the vast majority of not-for-profit humanities organizations—90%—reported revenues that were hundreds of millions of dollars lower than the maximum.

In each year, a handful of organizations, mostly large museums,2 had budgets that dwarfed those of all other humanities organizations. This can be seen in Figure IV-9c, which demonstrates the large share of revenues commanded by museums in 2004. Although they represented only 20% of humanities organizations, museums had close to half of all revenues (for more details on the numbers and revenues of museums from 1989 to 2004, see Figure IV-9d). The inverse was true of historical organizations,3 which amounted to 36% of all humanities organizations but garnered only 18% of all revenues (see also Figure IV-9e; these data do not include the substantial number of museums and historical institutions that are not private not-for-profit organizations but are instead operated by the government and by colleges and universities). Ethnic and cultural awareness organizations (profiled in Figure IV-9f) were similar to historical ones, having a revenue share that was less than half of their share of the total number of humanities organizations. Organizational counts and revenue totals, as well as detailed information on 2004 revenues, for the other types of humanities organizations are provided in Figure IV-9g (Humanities and Arts Councils), Figure IV-9h (Reading Promotion Organizations), Figure IV-9i (Library Organizations), and Figure IV-9j (other humanities organizations).

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Figure IV-9d, Full Size
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Figure IV-9e, Full Size
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Figure IV-9f, Full Size
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Figure IV-9g, Full Size
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Figure IV-9h, Full Size
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Figure IV-9i, Full Size
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Figure IV-9j, Full Size
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1 The range of “typical” or “usual” values exhibited by a population of persons or objects is described through the use of a statistic referred to as the interquartile range, which is designed to exclude the most extreme values of a sample distribution. Quartiles are statistics that divide the observations of a numeric sample into several groups, each of which contains 25% of the data. The lower, middle, and upper quartiles are computed by ordering the values for a particular variable (in this case organizational revenues) from smallest to largest and then finding the values below which fall 25%, 50%, and 75% of the data. The lower quartile and the upper quartile are the two values that define the interquartile range. The middle quartile is also known as the median. Figure IV-9b presents both the median and the interquartile range for humanities organization revenues at five-year intervals from 1989 to 2004.

2 For the purposes of the Humanities Indicators, the term "museum" includes: art museums, history museums, ethnic heritage museums, multidisciplinary museums, the support organizations for the museums previously listed, and museum associations. (See the Note on the Definition of Humanities Organizations.)

3 For the purposes of the Humanities Indicators, the term "historical organization" includes: historical societies, historical preservation groups, the support organizations for historical societies and historical preservation groups, professional societies and associations, and other organizations with a historical focus. (See the Note on the Definition of Humanities Organizations.)

Note on the Types of Foundation Grants Analyzed

The Foundation Center’s 2002 study of foundation giving to the humanities focused largely on grants from private (independent and corporate) foundations. Community foundations were the source of a very small proportion of the grants examined by the Center. Although both private foundations and community foundations are types of not-for-profit organizations eligible for tax exemptions under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code, they are viewed differently by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Private foundations receive almost all of their income from a narrow group of persons, such as single individuals, families, or corporations, while community foundations receive funds from a wide variety of donors and thus are considered by the IRS to be “public charities” (they must also meet the other criteria specified in section 509(a) of the tax code to be eligible for tax-exempt status). See Indicator IV-9, Revenues of Not-for-Profit Humanities Organizations, for information concerning not-for-profit humanities organizations that are classified as public charities.

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Note on the Definition of Not-for-Profit Organizations

“Not-for-profit” organization, as the term is used by the Humanities Indicators, refers to entities that are classified as tax-exempt public charities by the Internal Revenue Service. Public charities are a subset of 501(c)(3) organizations (tax-exempt entities) that meet additional criteria specified in Section 509(a) of the tax code. This section specifies two types of public charities: Section 509(a)(1) organizations, which are not-for-profit organizations that receive their public support primarily from gifts, grants, and contributions from a broad group of people; and Section 509(a)(2) organizations, which obtain their revenues from these sources, as well as in the form of fees for their services.

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Note on the Definition of Humanities Organizations

The term "humanities organizations," as used in the context of Indicator IV-9, Revenues of Not-for-Profit Humanities Organizations, refers to organizations that promote work or engage in the humanities disciplines or the public humanities. (For a list of these disciplines as well as a description of the types of activities that fall under the heading of "public humanities," see the Humanities Indicators’ Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for the Purposes of the Humanities Indicators). These organizations (nonschool) include:


Art museums and their support organizations
History museums and their support organizations
Ethnic heritage museums and their support organizations
Multidisciplinary museums and their support organizations
Museum associations

Historical Organizations

Historical societies and their support organizations
Historical preservation groups and their support organizations
Professional societies and associations
Other organizations with a historical focus

Library Organizations

Libraries (except those with purely science- and medicine-oriented collections)
Library support organizations
Professional societies and associations
Alliances and/or advocacy groups
Management and/or technical assistance groups

Reading Promotion Organizations

This category includes any organization whose primary purpose is to foster literacy among adults or youth (an example would be Reading Is Fundamental). The category excludes schools and tutoring programs.

Cultural and Ethnic Awareness Organizations

This category includes organizations dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of the history and culture of ethnic groups but not organizations whose primary mission is the social or economic advancement of these groups.

Humanities Councils

This category includes local, state, and regional humanities (or “arts and humanities”) councils and their affiliated foundations.

Other Humanities Organizations

Humanities organizations and their support organizations (all disciplines other than history)
Alliances and advocacy groups
Research institutes and institutions for public policy analysis
Professional societies and associations (professional societies for disciplines other than history are included here)
Management and/or technical assistance organizations

The definition of humanities organizations employed for Indicator IV-9 differs from that used by the Foundation Center in compiling the data that are the basis of Indicator IV-8, Foundation Funding in two important respects: 1) the definition used for the purposes of Indicator IV-9 includes all art museums (only ethnic and folk art museums are treated in the Foundation Center report), and 2) this definition excludes social science organizations (the Foundation Center includes humanities-oriented social science activities in its analysis).

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