My parents are interested in starting a family foundation to help organize their giving, and to (eventually) provide an outlet for shared family giving with my generation and my children’s generation. Do you have suggestions for good resources we can reference as we think about how best to structure this foundation?

Family members of the General Service Foundation in Aspen, Colorado, which recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding.

Thank you for your inquiry and congratulations on your family’s decision to establish a family foundation! This is an important moment for your family, and you are right to be both thoughtful and prepared as you embark on this exciting new adventure.

For starters, there are several pages on the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s website that provide a quick introduction to the options, challenges, and opportunities you may face as you prepare to create your family philanthropic vehicle. These include:

  • Creating a Family Philanthropy: an overview of charitable giving vehicles available aside from the private foundation.
  • Challenges of Philanthropy: tips and advice on choosing a mission, making decisions, and preparing for geographic dispersion and the transfer of leadership from one generation to the next.
  • Other topics: expert advice, timely articles, and relevant tools from the National Center, including suggestions from our exclusive Family Philanthropy Online Knowledge Center.

If you decide to form a family foundation, there are a couple of National Center publications you may purchase to help understand key decisions around governance, grantmaking, and the management of your family foundation. These include Splendid Legacy: The Guide to Creating Your Family Foundation and The Trustee Notebook: An Orientation for Family Foundation Trustees.

You may also wish to quickly familiarize yourself with some of the important legal aspects of running a family foundation. A good overview of these rules is Top Ten Ways Family Foundations Get Into Trouble, published by the Council on Foundations.

Another important book we suggest to help you understand the “life cycles” of family foundation boards across generations is Generations of Giving: Leadership and Continuity in Family Philanthropy. This book thoroughly explains how your family’s initial decisions affect the future role of family members in the foundation.

In addition, you may want to download a copy of our special (and free!) report, The Power to Produce Wonders: The Value of Family in Philanthropy. This report provides the first ever in-depth examination of the value of family philanthropy to the family, to communities, and to democracy. It also includes an overview of the challenges and opportunities of this unique philanthropic vehicle.

Finally, there are a variety of useful websites that can help your family determine would it like to accomplish with your giving and/or to research specific nonprofits and charities in your region. Here is a small sampling of some of the best of these sites:

Getting Started:

Information on Determining Issues and Causes to Support:

Information on Specific Charities and Nonprofits:

If you would like to further discuss your goals or have questions about establishing a family philanthropy, please contact the National Center at 202.293.3424 and we will be happy to arrange a phone conversation.

Please note that the National Center does not provide legal or tax planning advice and we do not provide referrals to legal or financial advisors. Our expertise and mission is to promote philanthropic values, vision, and excellence across generations of donors and donor families. We seek to ensure that donors and their advisors have access to the highest quality information and the encouragement needed to:

  • Articulate, pursue, and achieve their charitable missions;
  • Understand and meet their governance and management needs; and
  • Have a significant, positive impact on the lives and work of those they support.

We hope you find this information helpful, both now and in the future; if you do, please consider joining our Friends of the Family network, either now or once your foundation is officially up-and-running.

Thank you again for your interest in family giving, and for your family’s ongoing commitment to your community!