By Anne H. Morgan
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).
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Family celebrations and holidays are prime opportunities to create philanthropic traditions (and develop philanthropic values). To honor a child’s birthday you might plant a tree. For Mother’s Day, help your children do a good deed for someone else’s mother whose children can’t be with her. Family reunions, Grandparent’s Day or religious holidays can all be occasions to celebrate the spirit of giving.
Beginning the Discussion about Charitable Giving
Public foundations, community foundations and corporate giving programs may establish a matching gifts program that will match disaster relief gifts made by employees or other donors living in the U.S. or anywhere in the world, provided the grantees are public charities based in the U.S., and gifts are not made from a donor advised fund.
Matching gifts from donor advised funds or private foundations can be done, but grantmakers will have to comply with the rules applicable to these giving vehicles.
As family members come together in their collective role as trustees of the family foundation, they must grapple with many issues. Along with their grantmaking responsibilities, they set policies for governance and management and oversee the investment of the foundation’s assets. Unlike officers of other types of foundations, trustees make decisions that affect both the organization and the family. That awareness often complicates and confuses issues as trustees struggle with the question of whether loyalty is owed first to the family or to the foundation.
Should your foundation board members be compensated for service, or should they serve in a voluntary capacity? Whether you are considering this issue for the first time, or whether it’s a question that has arisen before, compensation has become more than an internal management question. It has become part of keeping the public trust.
A mission statement gives all who are interested an idea of why the foundation was established and how it defines its own work. The statement is usually broad, worded to reflect the donor’s intent and give a flavor of the foundation’s values and interests. For family foundation trustees, developing a mission statement is a means of honoring donor intent and giving an identity, set in the context of family and the outside world, to the foundation.
Developing Mission Statements
Most families and foundation leaders are uncertain about what is involved in continuity planning. You may have some of these common questions; here are some answers and explanations.
Why worry about continuity? We’ve got plenty of work to do just managing our grantmaking?
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.
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.