Family Foundations

The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as one whose funds are derived from members of a single family, though this is not a legal term and has no precise definition. The Council on Foundations suggests that family foundations have at least one family member serving as an officer or board member of the foundation and, as the donor, that individual (or a relative) must play a significant role in governing and/or managing the foundation. Most family foundations are run by family members who serve as trustees or directors on a voluntary basis. In many cases, second- and third-generation descendants of the original donors manage the foundation.

Family foundations make up over half of all private (family, corporate, independent, and operating) foundations, or 40,456 out of approximately 73,764 foundations (Foundation Center, 2011). Family foundations make up approximately one-third of the Council’s membership.

Family foundations range in asset size from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 billion. The holdings of family foundations total approximately $294 billion, or about 44 percent of all foundation holdings of $662 billion. Despite this, three out of five family foundations hold assets of less than $1 million. Family foundations gave away approximately $21.3 billion in grants in 2011 (The Foundation Center, 2011).

Below is everything on our site for family foundations. You can use the filtering options on the right to narrow these results.

As the need for scarce grant dollars grows more intense, so does the need to make certain those dollars are spent as effectively as possible. Hence the question of how to evaluate the consequences of grant supported activities has risen to the forefront.

First Steps

This guide is designed to help foundations consider how more diverse and inclusive practices might advance their mission by making their work more effective and more reflective of communities served. By highlighting 10 ways family foundations can approach diversity, this guide seeks to spark ideas and launch further dialogue.

Foundation recordkeeping is an inherently dull topic—unless it’s done wrong. The foundation manager who has not kept adequate documentation regarding expenditure responsibility grants will surely find an IRS audit more exciting than he might like. Similarly, a foundation manager confronted with a trustee succession battle will find the situation even more nerve-racking if she cannot put her hands on copies of the minutes of the meeting held years ago at which the succession issue was addressed and resolved.

Question: Our private foundation received a proposal for a general support grant from a public charity. The proposed grant meets our guidelines and is within our charitable mission; however, we know the charity engages in lobbying. Can we make a grant to this charity?

Answer: Yes, as long as the grant is not earmarked for the grantee’s lobbying activity. Earmarking is a written or oral understanding that funds will be used for a particular purpose.

A foundation's strategic plan describes its long-term goals and objectives, and how the organization will work to fulfill them. Like any management tool, a strategic plan—with a process to develop that plan—helps an organization improve its work. Specifically, a strategic plan focuses the board's energy, articulates explicit goals for the board and staff to work toward, and adjusts the organization's direction, if necessary, in response to a changing community.

A good strategic plan will:

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) increased the excise tax rates for violations of many of the private foundation rules. In most cases, the first tier taxes were doubled. These changes are effective for private foundations upon the foundation’s first tax year beginning after August 17, 2006. For private foundations with calendar tax years, this translates into an effective date of January 1, 2007. Below is a review of the changes to the first tier taxes:

Many foundations may be uncertain about what’s involved when it comes to succession planning. Some wonder why they should worry about the future at all when they have so much work to do in managing their grantmaking, community leadership and development, and administrative duties.

Succession planning is more than just replacing a CEO. It’s an opportunity to evaluate what works at your foundation—and identify areas in which you can improve. It can give both the board and staff a clear picture of long-term goals, and help you set priorities and make decisions.

A collection of all impact investing publications from Mercer.

From Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, this handbook on responsible investing provides the blueprint for foundation asset managers interested in multiplying their organization’s impact on society through options that link mission with investments that create long-term value to society.

Prepared by the Southern New Hampshire University's School of Community Economic Development and available through Mission Investors Exchange, this case study explores the details of the F.B. Heron Foundation's rationale, exploration, and implementation of its mission-related investment strategy, and reviews tools (including PRIs), specific investments, interim outcomes, and lessons learned. The case study provides a walk-through of how Heron applies its Mission-related Investment Continuum to its portfolio.

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