Private foundations changed their priorities by increasing grants to human services and public and societal causes in 2015, according to Foundation Source, a provider of services for private foundations.

According to data collected from 831 private foundations with $50 million or less in assets, giving to human services causes was up 2 percentage points to make up 17 percent of all grant money that was distributed. Likewise, giving to public and societal causes received 15 percent of the grant money compared to 12 percent in 2014. Giving to health causes went up from 8 percent to 9 percent.

Human services and public and societal causes encompass a wide range of social issues, including such things as feeding and housing the poor.

Grants to education, arts and international and current affairs giving were down.

"Typically human service, health and public societal benefit categories go up when the general sense is that there are many people in need. Since we’re not in a recession, this may just be a reflection of an overall sense of economic inequality in the country,” says Page Snow, Foundation Source chief philanthropic officer.

While priorities may be shifting, overall giving by private foundations was up 24.5 percent from $171.22 million in 2014 to $215.11 last year. Much of the increase came from foundations with $1 million to $10 million, which increased giving by 51.7 percent.

Foundations continued to distribute more money than required. Distributions averaged 7.4 percent of assets, reflecting 2014’s total. Foundations with less $1 million distributed 11.9 percent of assets; those with $1 million to $10 million distributed 8.5 percent, and the largest foundations distributed 6.4 percent. Foundations are required to give away 5 percent of their assets annually,

The end of the calendar year always is a prime time for grant making and 2015 was no exception. Last year the holiday season saw foundations giving out one quarter of the grant money, up from 19 percent in 2014.

Foundation Source CEO Robert Chartener, says, “2015 was a strong year for foundation giving as we saw significantly higher grant making levels than in 2014. Given the robust performance of U.S. equity and fixed-income markets in 2014, we had expected to see an uptick in giving in the following year, but an average increase of more than 50 percent among some of our clients was even higher than we might have predicted.”