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.

As part of the Council’s global philanthropy program, this members-only conference call on July 1, 2015 provided an overview on policy developments in Mexico that are impacting the flow of U.S. philanthropy into the country. On the call, expert speakers delved into the implications for funders of a new anti-money laundering law, changes to the Mexican tax code, and the consequences of the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement.

Foundation recordkeeping is an inherently dull topic—unless it’s done wrong. The foundation manager who has not kept adequate documentation regarding expenditure responsibility grants will surely find an IRS audit more exciting than he might like. Similarly, a foundation manager confronted with a trustee succession battle will find the situation even more nerve-racking if she cannot put her hands on copies of the minutes of the meeting held years ago at which the succession issue was addressed and resolved.

With Congress and the media focusing on corporate governance and foundation administration, it is a good time to make sure that all grantmakers have a strong conflict of interest policy in place. Both private foundations and public charities (such as community foundations) should have clear guidelines on financial or other interests that must be disclosed and transactions that must be scrutinized or avoided. The policy should cover both board members and foundation staff.

The Council's Board of Directors released this guidance memorandum in March 2010 and strongly recommends that when reviewing and approving foundation investment policies and procedures practices, all foundations—private and public-consider these best practices in foundation investment management.