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.

Under the rules applicable to private foundations, directors or trustees and staff members may be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the foundation's charitable activities. Such expenditures fall under the heading of administrative costs and will generally count toward the foundation's minimum distribution requirement, or payout.

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.

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

Practice 1. The board (and investment committee and staff, if any) of a foundation should understand and fulfill their respective fiduciary responsibilities and duties under applicable law and the governing documents of the foundation and stay informed regarding any relevant changes in law, duties, or responsibilities.

Practice Tips:

Things to do NOW – “An Ounce of Prevention...”

Grantmakers searching for more detailed information about the charitable status of their potential grantees may find the answers they need in the IRS’ Select Check tool.

This IRS online search tool allows the user to:

(1) search the IRS public charity list, known as IRS Publication 78, for data to determine if an organization is charitable,

(2) determine if an organization has filed a Form 990-N (required for smaller charities), or

Grantmakers should be advised that Hurricane Sandy is a “qualified disaster” for federal tax purposes. Under IRS rules, this means that employers may more easily assist employees affected by the disaster. Employers and their related foundations may make payments for reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses, and reasonable and necessary expenses incurred for the repair or rehabilitation of a personal residence or its contents. Such payments will not be treated as taxable income to the affected employees.