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).

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Thriving Philanthropy Makes Thriving Communities

There are several proposals being considered in Congress that have significant implications for philanthropy and its effectiveness in addressing some of our most pressing challenges. In addition to educating lawmakers in Washington, D.C., communicating the impact locally is just as important! Here are some ways your organization can spread the word about the correlation between philanthropy and thriving communities.

Media Outreach

Letter to the Editor

Working in collaboration with the Center for American Progress, the Council co-hosted conversations among foundations, community development financial institutions, and investment firms about social impact bonds and Pay for Success. Out of these conversations, two issue briefs were created:

The Council on Foundations, in collaboration with BoardSource, is proud to announce the publication of an easy-to-use guide for new foundation board members. This publication is designed as a basic guide for new foundation board members, providing an introduction to tools and knowledge essential in your first years of service on the board of a foundation.

Private foundations and public charities, including community foundations, may meet with legislators and legislative staff, but must use caution when considering topics to discuss with legislators. This document contains some general guidelines to consider prior to visiting with legislators.

The Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking was established in 1985 to recognize a grantmaker who has demonstrated outstanding creativity. It honors grantmakers who, with a combination of vision, principle and personal commitment, are making a critical difference in a creative way. The award was created as a memorial to the late Robert Winston Scrivner, former staff associate of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and first executive director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, by a number of his friends and colleagues.

Increasing personal accountability is probably the most effective way to enhance the performance of board members. Here are a few suggestions.

The persistent scrutiny of nonprofit governance has prompted leaders at many types of organizations to take steps to assure that their own houses are in good legal and financial order. For private foundations, this checklist is a good place to start.

This checklist was prepared by Jane Kendall, president of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits and a trustee of the Kathleen Price Bryan Family Fund at the time she wrote this. These tips come from more than 1,100 nonprofit leaders in the U.S. and four other countries. They were gleaned through in-depth interviews conducted as part of a W.K. Kellogg Foundation National Fellowship and through 20 focus groups held during the grassroots creation of the Center for Nonprofits. The introduction is by Leslie Lilly, vice president of the Foundation for the Mid South.

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