“Chronicle of Philanthropy” Article: Keeping Family Close Is Priority at Many Family Foundations

Categories: News

By Rebecca Koenig, Chronicle of Philanthropy

Sixty-­two percent of family-­foundation board members believe that involving relatives is as important as having an impact, according to a new survey from Foundation Source.

“In this day and age, where families often are geographically dispersed, the foundation is the thing that helps maintain the connections,” Page Snow, chief philanthropic and marketing officer at Foundation Source, told The Chronicle.

That family focus is reflected in the makeup of foundation boards: Only 27 percent of respondents said their family foundations allow outsiders to serve.

But at many grant makers, being related to the founder is not enough to qualify someone to serve. Sixty-­one percent of respondents said family members should be chosen to join the board based on their interest and commitment to the work.

Board members from about 200 foundations — the majority of which have less than $50 million in assets — responded to the survey. Foundations of this size account for 98 percent of grant makers in the United States.

Fifty-­seven percent of respondents serve grant makers that are controlled by the generation that founded them. Among the findings:

  • 56.7 percent of respondents serve foundations that allow board members to
    make discretionary grants. That means that nonprofits should approach
    individual family members who have demonstrated an interest in their work, Ms.
    Snow says.
  • 37.2 percent of respondents serve foundations that try to engage the next
    generation of the family by providing discretionary grants or grant certificates,
    which are similar to a charitable gift card. Several foundations give grant
    certificates to children as young as 6 years old to teach them about charitable
    giving, Ms. Snow says.
  • Despite great interest in engaging relatives, a quarter of respondents said family
    dynamics was a primary challenge for their foundations. Other big challenges
    were time limitations (34.7 percent) and geographic dispersion (33.7 percent).