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.

The following are some of the models that are used for staffing family foundations. Many families use variations on these models or a combination of them. Any of them can be effective, depending on what is important to the family. The two major considerations, and they are linked, are: how much time do family members have to give to the foundation? How much hands on development and control do family members want? In addition, the geographic location and the expertise or experience of trustees will have a bearing.

Administrator Model

This sample grant proposal application checklist can be customized to your foundation's processes, allowing you to check off each step of the grant application process.  

This sample grant proposal acknowledgment letter will allow you to let prospective grantees know that their application was received.  

This sample post-grant evaluation can be customized to your foundation, and provided to your grantees to submit at the conclusion of their grant.

This is a sample Membership Committee policy

This sample grant agreement letter may be customized to your foundation, and used to alert new grantees to the terms of their grant.

This slide presentation covers issues that may arise for non-family staff in family foundations.

Looking for the single best way to manage a family foundation? You may be looking for a long time. Because family foundations are unique within the foundation world, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to management. Each family creates its own rules and structures for its foundation, allowing for a variety of management styles.

A family foundation's legal responsibilities for monitoring, assessing or evaluating the grants it makes to organizations with 501(c)(3) tax exempt status are minimal. The IRS requires little in the way of detailed reporting on the outcome of specific grants-except for grants to organizations that lack 501(c)(3) status.