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Art of philanthropy 

Walton gift, other donations tracked.

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The year's top philanthropic gesture was historic: The Walton Family Foundation gave $1.2 billion to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, founded by Alice Walton.

The gift, made in 2010 but announced just before the Nov. 11 opening of the museum, was exceptional both in amount and as a gift to the arts, an area of need more neglected than celebrated. The gift will pay for art acquisition, conservation and museum operations.

Spinning off from the museum gift was another $20 million by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Foundation to cover admission costs, to be paid over five years; $10 million by the Willard and Pat Walker Foundation to fund a school visit program, to be paid over 10 years; and $1 million from the Jack and Melba Shewmaker family for educational programs at the museum.

Perhaps as a reflection of an economy inching its way up from the recession of 2009, family foundation assets and giving were up slightly in 2010 over 2009. Grants made by Arkansas's top 14 family foundations (those with assets of $30 million or more) alone, not counting the $1.2 billion Walton gift, totaled more than $111 million in 2010, according to tax documents. (The Foundation Center, reporting on all 290 foundations in Arkansas in 2009, including independent, corporate and community, arrived at a figure of $666 million.)

The Walton Family Foundation donations, other than the one to Crystal Bridges, to Arkansas non-profits totaled about $48 million.

The gift to Crystal Bridges was the bulk of the Walton foundation's total giving of $1.49 billion, quadruple its grant-making the year previous. (Walton grants go to education reform, this year including $25 million to the KIPP Foundation, which operates public charter schools; freshwater and marine conservation projects and social programs.)

In addition to the Walton gift, the Windgate Foundation in Rogers noticeably increased its giving, doubling grant dollars from $10.1 million in 2009 to $20.9 million in 2010. (Windgate, which focuses on education, primarily John Brown University, and the arts, is "spending down" its assets, which means its board does not intend for it to exist in perpetuity.)

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas, which annually gives to Arkansas nonprofits, donated $40 million in 2010 to state charities.

Besides the Walton bounty for the arts, education was the recipient of the lion's share of the dollars, followed by medicine and social needs.

Family foundations, their dollars coming from deep pockets, have been generous. But, said Melissa Stiles, president of Arkansas's chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, generous people who give at lower levels — in the hundreds or thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands — are still "feeling the strain of the economy" and being more careful with their philanthropy. So while some organizations are celebrating an increase in giving, "I don't know that the average charity necessarily feels that way," Stiles said. Things may be particularly difficult for nonprofits like food pantries whose mission is duplicated by other charities and who often tap the same well.

"I would say probably 2011 was still a tough year for most nonprofits in Arkansas," Tom Nisbett, who will succeed Stiles Jan. 1, said. Charities who don't enjoy long-standing ties with rich foundations are finding it more difficult to raise money.

Private giving will surely be more important to Arkansas nonprofits as public dollars dry up in response to the federal debt; that situation "changes the shape of the pie" of donor sources, Hunter Goodman of the Arkansas Coalition for Excellence said. Yet, Nisbett added, local nonprofits are "in many ways too dependent on foundation and event giving"; they need to incorporate other strategies, like planned and online giving, to sustain their mission.

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