Find general information about starting family foundations:
Keep in mind that a family foundation may not be the best giving vehicle for you; read about other philanthropic options.
What is a family foundation?
A family foundation is a:
- Private foundation in which the majority of board members is related to the donor
- Private foundation in which the donor’s family is very involved.
- Foundation that focuses on the philanthropic intent of the donors.
- Family fund given to family interests.
- Foundation formed and funded by a single family or family’s business.
- Organization founded and preserved by family members.
"Family Foundation" is not a legal term and therefore has no precise definition. Strictly speaking, a family foundation is a type of private foundation – defined as a separate legal entity formed as a trust or nonprofit corporation under state law that has obtained status as a tax-exempt Section 501(c)(3) charity from the Internal Revenue Service.
The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as a private foundation established by an individual donor with the donor and/or the donor’s family playing a significant governing role. Funding for a family foundation normally comes from one person, one couple, or a limited number of family members. Often, once the endowment has been formed, the only sources of funding may be investment income or bequests at the death of the donor or family members.
How many family foundations are there in the U.S.?
Family foundations make up almost half of all private (corporate, independent, operating, and community) foundations – approximately 33,100 out of approximately 67,700 foundations (Foundation Center, January 2006). Family foundations make up one-third of Council on Foundations' more than 2,000 members.
How much money do family foundations hold?
Family foundations range in asset size from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than a billion dollars. Three out of five family foundations hold assets of less than $1 million dollars, and the total holdings of family foundations is approximately $209 billion out of a total of $510 billion dollars (The Foundation Center, 2004), about 41 percent of all foundations holdings.
How much money do family foundations give away each year?
Family foundations gave away approximately $13 billion in grants in 2004, about 40 percent of all foundation giving. Family foundation giving is as unique as each family that creates the foundation. Some families give to help others affected by tragedies they themselves have borne: fighting cancer, birth defects, domestic violence and other social ills. Others give to repay the locales that helped them prosper: educational institutions, social services, the arts and community groups. Some foundations concentrate on a wide variety of causes within a geographic focus. Most family foundations limit their giving to local communities, states and regions. However, a growing percentage of family foundations fund internationally.