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.

This list highlights some of the ways that private foundations and public charities (including community foundations) may engage in public policy without lobbying. Public charities have further flexibility and may engage in lobbying activities not described below.

1.Direct communications with legislators or their staff about a general issue of concern. To use this lobbying exception these direct communications may not either refer to specific legislation or legislative proposal, or if specific legislation or proposal is referenced, no view may be expressed on such legislation.  

Grantmakers can legally participate in the political process by following guidelines established by the IRS. Here are some tips.

IRS response to Council inquiry regarding private foundations engaging in advocacy and lobbying.

IRS document outlining lobbying issues of tax-exempt organizations.

An overview of the laws that govern what private foundations can and can't do regarding involvement in the public policy process.

This toolkit is designed for private foundations that want to educate and encourage their grantees about getting involved in civic and policy activities to increase organizational capacity and impact. While its primary focus is on the grantmaking activity of foundations, the toolkit also addresses rules and guidance for policy involvement by foundation officials acting on behalf of their foundations.

Sabbaticals are not too uncommon in the nonprofit world for foundation executives or senior management. It can be a useful time to reflect on past accomplishments, revitalize, and gain renewed inspiration for future work. Sabbaticals for board members likewise can have similar positive effects but should be approached with care.

When to Think Twice

Sample conflict of interest policies for staff and board members.

Sample conflict of interest policies from the Community Foundation of Switzerland County and Triangle Community Foundation.

Ordinarily, established private foundations and public charity grantmakers would ignore the IRS's revision of Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption from Federal Income Tax. After all, these groups have already received their determination letters. But the revised Form 1023 and the accompanying instructions that the IRS issued on November 1, 2004, merit grantmakers' attention.

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