Family foundations account for a major portion of foundation giving in the United States. According to the Foundation Center, there are approximately 33,000 family foundations, representing more than half of all private foundations, and making grants totaling more than $12.7 billion per year. Their assets total $209 billion.
Family foundations now comprise more than 33% of Council on Foundations' membership. The term "family foundations," as opposed to "independent foundations," refers to those in which the family members have a substantial role in the foundations' governance. But both types are considered "private foundations" by the IRS. The oldest family foundations were created in the late 19th century and many still exist. Through their philanthropy, families aspire to achieve a lasting and positive impact on society. They give not only their money but their time, talent, passion and commitment to the communities and institutions they support.
Most family foundations concentrate their giving locally in their communities. However, a growing number are now funding nationally and internationally. Some families give to help others affected by tragedies they themselves have borne - fighting cancer, domestic violence and the like. Others give to repay the institutions that helped them prosper – education, social services, the arts, community groups or a wide variety of causes. Some have narrow missions, funding in only a limited number of areas, while others have broad missions that can encompass the range of interests the board members may have at any point in time.
Many family foundations are unstaffed, which means the family members who make up the board take on the responsibility of all grantmaking, plus management and governance. More than three-fifths of family foundations have assets of less than $1 million. To have more impact, some family foundations join in collaborations with other funders. In this way they can expand their reach and effectiveness. Many family foundations also participate in their local regional association of grantmakers (RAGs) and various affinity groups. RAGs serve a distinct geographic region (city, state or multi-state area) and enhance the effectiveness of private philanthropy in their regions. The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers represents 31 of the largest regional associations in the United States. Affinity groups of grantmakers represent a variety of different issues and population groups. Currently, there are affinity groups recognized by the Council on Foundations.
To help families be responsible stewards of their foundation resources, the Council on Foundations collaborated with the field to develop the Stewardship Principles for Family Foundations. These principles and best practices, launched in 2005, help foundations strive for excellence. Review the principles here.