Independent Foundations

Private foundations make grants based on charitable endowments. The endowment funds come from one or a small handful of sources -- an individual, a family or a corporation. Because of their endowments, they are focused primarily on grantmaking and generally do not raise funds or seek public financial support the way public charities (like community foundations) must.

Private independent foundations are distinct from private family or corporate foundations in that an independent foundation is not governed by the benefactor, the benefactor’s family or a corporation. Of the largest private foundations in the United States, most are independent foundations, although they may have begun as family foundations or were converted from corporate foundations. There is no official IRS or legal definition of independent foundations, so it is difficult to arrive at statistics that are fully representative of the field.

Below is everything on our site for independent foundations. You can use the filtering options on the right to narrow these results.

The Stewardship Principles for Family Foundations encourage foundations to provide orientation and training for new board members and professional development for existing board members and staff. They also encourage planning for leadership continuity through activities that identify, educate and prepare the next generation of family members for future board service. Finally, they suggest that the foundation inform the broader family of the foundation's work and provide avenues for young family members to learn about and participate in the work of the foundation.

What do you do when a grantee—or potential grantee—asks someone on your board or staff to sit on their board? Does such a request constitute a conflict of interest? Are there times when such a situation can actually benefit one or both of the organizations involved?

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of sharing board members.

Many foundation board members wear more than one philanthropic hat. In addition to serving on the board of a grantmaker, they may also serve on the boards of grantseeking charities—or even on their staffs. Several issues may arise when board members find themselves on both sides of a grant request.

In the May/June 1998 issue of Foundation News & Commentary, Jane Nober wrote "That's the Ticket"  about using foundation funds to pay for tickets to fundraising events. Six years later, questions about tickets and other tangible benefits paid for by the foundation are still among the most common inquiries received by the Council on Foundations' legal department. We thought it would be helpful to review the basic rules for private foundations and highlight some recent questions we've answered.

Accepting and using tickets and other tangible benefits of more than minimal value raises questions for foundation managers. Here's what the general Tax Code rules say is acceptable.

This Document Retention and Destruction Policy of the Council on Foundations (the "Council") identifies the record retention responsibilities of staff, volunteers, members of the Board of Directors, and outsiders for maintaining and documenting the storage and destruction of the Council’s documents and records. You can use this as guide for your own policy.

Every organization exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is required to disclose certain information to the public:

Tax-exempt organizations must make annual returns and exemption applications filed with the IRS available for public inspection and copying upon request. In addition, the IRS makes these documents available. These FAQS relate to the public disclosure and availability of documents filed by tax-exempt organizations with the IRS.

Can we pay our board members? Should we?

Always a controversial topic, the issue of whether to pay foundation board members is likely to get even more attention. The precipitous decline in foundation assets has everyone trying to make the most effective use of their resources. Expect the media, regulators, general public, and even your grantees to scrutinize the decisions you make.

The Internal Revenue Code provides excise tax penalties that can be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service whenever unreasonable or excessive compensation is paid to high-level employees of charitable organizations.

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