Public Foundations

Public foundations are grantmaking public charities that gain their funds from a variety of sources, which may include foundations, individuals, corporations, or public entities. Public foundations may engage in fundraising, and may seek broad public financial support. They may or may not have endowments. There is no legal definition of a public foundation, but most dedicate a significant portion of their annual budgets to grantmaking. Most community foundations are also grantmaking public charities.

Since public foundations may be defined in different ways, and there is no official IRS or legal definition of public foundations, it is difficult to arrive at statistics that are fully representative of the field.

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

A plain-language guide to Executive Order 13224, the Patriot Act, embargoes and sanctions, IRS rules, Treasury Department voluntary guidelines, and USAID requirements.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, grantmakers are now being asked for a substantially higher level of due diligence regarding grantees than ever before. The good news is that providers of computer-based products and services are being responsive and beginning to offer grantmakers some practical and cost-effective solutions.

This list highlights some of the ways that private foundations and public charities (including community foundations) may engage in public policy without lobbying. Public charities have further flexibility and may engage in lobbying activities not described below.

1.Direct communications with legislators or their staff about a general issue of concern. To use this lobbying exception these direct communications may not either refer to specific legislation or legislative proposal, or if specific legislation or proposal is referenced, no view may be expressed on such legislation.  

Grantmakers can legally participate in the political process by following guidelines established by the IRS. Here are some tips.

IRS document outlining lobbying issues of tax-exempt organizations.

The Treasury regulations that limit lobbying make no specific reference to community foundations. Thus, the rules generally applicable to all public charities apply to community foundations, and those rules will differ accordingly depending upon whether or not a community foundation has elected to be treated by the "expenditure test."

If the community foundation elects, all actions excluded from the lobbying definition may be carried out in-house by a community foundation without fear of any legal violation, and the special exceptions to the lobbying rules will apply.

This toolkit is designed for community and public foundations that want to educate and encourage their grantees about getting involved in civic and policy activities to increase organizational capacity and impact. While its primary focus is on the grantmaking activity of these foundations, the toolkit also addresses rules and guidance for policy involvement by foundation officials acting on behalf of their foundations.

Sabbaticals are not too uncommon in the nonprofit world for foundation executives or senior management. It can be a useful time to reflect on past accomplishments, revitalize, and gain renewed inspiration for future work. Sabbaticals for board members likewise can have similar positive effects but should be approached with care.

When to Think Twice

Sample conflict of interest policies for staff and board members.

Sample conflict of interest policies from the Community Foundation of Switzerland County and Triangle Community Foundation.

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