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Family Foundation Giving Up Sharply

By Tom Watson on April 25, 2008No Comment

Because family foundations are not legally distinct from independent foundations, the Foundation Center identified them with criteria including those with “family” or “families” in their name, a living donor with a surname that matches the foundation’s name, or a foundation with at least two trustee surnames that match a living or deceased donor’s name.  This qualifies some of the largest institutions in the country, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Annenberg Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In total, 34,687 foundations with measurable donor or donor-family involvement were identified, accounting for 59% of total giving by independent foundations overall. 

At the same time, 49% of family foundations reported less than $50,000 in giving, demonstrating the diverse granting capabilities of this field of funders. 

Family foundations followed the giving patterns of independent foundations, favoring health and education organizations (to an even larger percentage than independent foundations) and directed the largest share of their 2006 giving for programs.  Education was the top priority in three of the country’s four main regions; in the west, health surpassed education 44% to 21%, due largely to the enormous giving to health-related organizations of the Gates Foundation. 

In terms of leadership, the Foundation Center found that family foundation board size tends to increase as foundations age, with the median number of 2006 board members reaching 7 to those established pre-1940 and 3 for those established in the last six years.  

Other key findings in the report:

  • 67% of the 34,687 foundations identified have been established since 1990.  Nearly 27% of family foundations have been established in the 2000s.
  • Inflation-adjusted family foundation giving has nearly doubled since 1998.
  • 60% of family foundations reported less than $1 million in assets in 2006.
  • Family foundations now account for about three-fifths of overall giving by independent foundations. 

For more information on who gave the most and what they gave to, you can download the entire report here.

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