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.

There's more to closing down a private foundation than packing up and turning off the utilities. Here are some questions, considerations, and IRS direction.

Under the rules applicable to private foundations, directors or trustees and staff members may be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the foundation's charitable activities. Such expenditures fall under the heading of administrative costs and will generally count toward the foundation's minimum distribution requirement, or payout.

Over the past decade or so, economies have become more global and the tools for communicating news from around the world have become more effective and timely in reporting global events via the internet, video and text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook, to name but a few of these tools. Foundations similarly are now faced with the challenges and opportunities of engaging an international community of stakeholders in their philanthropic endeavors. The relationships that a foundation forms with nonresidents and non-U.S.

The Stewardship Principles for Family Foundations encourage foundations to provide orientation and training for new board members and professional development for existing board members and staff. They also encourage planning for leadership continuity through activities that identify, educate and prepare the next generation of family members for future board service. Finally, they suggest that the foundation inform the broader family of the foundation's work and provide avenues for young family members to learn about and participate in the work of the foundation.

What do you do when a grantee—or potential grantee—asks someone on your board or staff to sit on their board? Does such a request constitute a conflict of interest? Are there times when such a situation can actually benefit one or both of the organizations involved?

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of sharing board members.

Many foundation board members wear more than one philanthropic hat. In addition to serving on the board of a grantmaker, they may also serve on the boards of grantseeking charities—or even on their staffs. Several issues may arise when board members find themselves on both sides of a grant request.

In the May/June 1998 issue of Foundation News & Commentary, Jane Nober wrote "That's the Ticket"  about using foundation funds to pay for tickets to fundraising events. Six years later, questions about tickets and other tangible benefits paid for by the foundation are still among the most common inquiries received by the Council on Foundations' legal department. We thought it would be helpful to review the basic rules for private foundations and highlight some recent questions we've answered.

Accepting and using tickets and other tangible benefits of more than minimal value raises questions for foundation managers. Here's what the general Tax Code rules say is acceptable.

This Document Retention and Destruction Policy of the Council on Foundations (the "Council") identifies the record retention responsibilities of staff, volunteers, members of the Board of Directors, and outsiders for maintaining and documenting the storage and destruction of the Council’s documents and records. You can use this as guide for your own policy.

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