Independent 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 independent foundations are distinct from private family or corporate foundations in that an independent foundation is not governed by the benefactor, the benefactor’s family or a corporation. Of the largest private foundations in the United States, most are independent foundations, although they may have begun as family foundations or were converted from corporate foundations. There is no official IRS or legal definition of independent foundations, so it is difficult to arrive at statistics that are fully representative of the field.

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When I formally entered the field of philanthropy, I was certain of my commitment to improving the overall quality of life for children and families. But to be frank, what I was not certain of was the full scope of the vast and unique role philanthropy could play in facilitating such change. As a former program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I brought with me deep experience on the “dance floor.” I have since learned the importance of “going to the balcony” to bring about change on individual and enterprise levels.
The idea of raising the bar in the philanthropic sector is a great one, but we need to acknowledge some potentially hard truths first: a) the bar is actually set pretty low, so the idea of raising it shouldn’t be the pinnacle of our aspirations; b) we haven’t reached the goals represented by the positioning of the current bar; and c) there are policies, structures and behaviors in our sector that act as weights holding the bar down.
Like many of us in the philanthropic sector, I have, over the past year, been to more than a few webinars and conferences on philanthropy’s role in advancing equity. It can often feel like we’re all following a standard script. We acknowledge that racism exists, and has in fact existed for a while; we acknowledge that philanthropy has traditionally perpetuated injustices; and then we conclude that we must fund communities of color. We’re often too scared of saying the “wrong” thing or the “radical” thing to go any deeper than that.
I came away from the second day of the Council on Foundations’ Leading Together 2021 conference with an enormous amount of hope. Hope in humanity and in the kind and equitable future we will create together, if we challenge ourselves to do better and shift many of our sector practices.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis and violent racism against the Black and AAPI communities provided a moment of reckoning for philanthropic practitioners across the United States. We can capitalize on this moment if we work together, and if we understand that the greater good is more than a lofty ideal.
During sessions on the first day of Leading Together 2021, three words resounded in the conversations: respect, trust, and equity. These three words have tremendous importance, both in our lives as individuals and as philanthropy professionals, and they have the power to reshape the ways that we serve our communities and causes for the better.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the consequences of siloed philanthropy and the imperative to accelerate intersectional, multi-level work, with particular attention to integrating the HIV and COVID-19 responses with racial justice efforts in the U.S.
The ACE Act, sponsored by Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would modify existing rules relating to donor advised funds (“DAFs”), make certain changes to the rules for the excise tax on undistributed income of private foundations, and exempt certain private foundations from the excise tax on investment income