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.

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.

As different as foundations can be from one another, they all share the need to know what works and, especially, what works well. The more foundations can show how their grants are making a difference, the more value they can bring to their communities.

To know what works, foundations must evaluate their grants. Evaluation has many benefits. It helps the foundation assess the quality or impact of funded programs, plan and implement new programs, make future grant decisions, and demonstrate accountability to the public trust.

Social media is an increasingly prevalent part of our world. Whether it’s on the news, sitting in traffic, or talking with colleagues, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid mention of Facebook or Twitter. Is there a good way for your foundation to become involved?

Question: Our foundation has been funding a local nonprofit for the last ten years. The nonprofit has one full-time employee and an annual operating budget of about $300,000. The nonprofit recently requested a $50,000 grant for operating expenditures or it will have to close down immediately. Even if we make the grant, they may only operate for another month or so. If the foundation makes the grant but the nonprofit dissolves anyway and $20,000 of the grant remains unspent, what happens to that money? Can we fund them?

Note to the Program Officer

The scope of the program officer job description has evolved. Where it was once primarily tactical—reviewing funding requests and developing requests for proposals—the program officer’s role more commonly includes strategic activities. Program officers must master three distinct areas: (1) developing and strengthening internal networksand relationships, (2) creating the foundation/giving program’s grantmaking strategy,and (3) engaging grantees and the community.

One of the greatest challenges encountered in thinking about evaluation is that there usually is more than one acceptable way to evaluate a given grant, project, or program.

The form that an evaluation takes and the products that it yields will depend on choices made about the following issues:

Question: A potential grantee submitted to us an IRS letter of determination that expired on August 30, 2008. The grantee said that, despite the expiration date, the letter of determination is treated as the grantee's permanent ruling. Is this true?