Private 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 foundation” is the umbrella term that includes corporate, independent, family, and operating foundations.  As of 2011, there were 73,764 private foundations in the United States (Foundation Center, 2011).  

In 2011, private foundations held more than $604 billion in assets and gave away more than $45 billion (Foundation Center, 2011).  

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

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. 

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.

First Steps

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?