Family philanthropy’s role in the field of charitable giving has grown significantly in size and complexity over the past decade: in 2010, more than 40,000 family foundations donated over $20 billion according to the Foundation Center, representing 63% of all foundation giving. Indeed, family philanthropy is the largest and fastest growing segment of philanthropic activity in the country, with hundreds of thousands of families giving through donor advised funds, family offices, family businesses, giving circles, and other vehicles.

Despite the significant role that family philanthropy plays in society, there continues to be a dearth of national research providing insight into how giving families identify, pursue, and achieve their philanthropic goals. With this in mind, NCFP and the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy have launched The Trends in Family Philanthropy Research Initiative to identify emerging trends in the practice of family philanthropy.

NCFP Past Research
Since its founding in 1997, NCFP has conducted and commissioned a variety of groundbreaking research on philanthropic families. Highlights of past research efforts include:
leading-through-change
The CEO Initiative:
The Role of the Family Foundation Chief Executive Officer

Working Together for Common Purpose: The First National Study of Family Philanthropy Through the Family Office

The Power to Produce Wonders: The Value of Family in Philanthropy
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Generations of Giving:
Leadership and Continuity in Family Foundations

For additional details and links to these reports, please
go here.

“This study will allow us to answer tough questions and to describe and follow the evolution of the field with data, as opposed to just experience-based intuition or anecdote,” explained NCFP President Virginia Esposito on a recent webinar announcing the study. “We feel that this new data will have great appeal for family funds and foundations that see themselves as real learning organizations – as well as those who work with them. We recognize that collecting data for data's sake just gathers dust on a shelf. But data can also undergird real, practical products, resources, and educational programs.”

Preparations for the study have been guided by a distinguished Advisory Committee of leaders in family philanthropy chaired by NCFP Senior Fellow Alice Buhl (see list, below). Results will be based on two surveys, one targeting family foundations and one for families using other vehicles for their philanthropy.

The family foundation survey will use a random sample of roughly 2,500 family foundations from the Foundation Center’s family foundation database. Over 10 years ago, NCFP partnered with the Foundation Center to create a set of criteria that defined family foundations as those in which two or more relatives of the original Both surveys will be conducted in the first quarter of 2015, and results will be released in conjunction with the 2015 National Forum on Family Philanthropy, taking place October 14-16 in Seattle, Washington.

Trends in Family Philanthropy Advisory Committee
The Trends in Family Philanthropy Advisory Committee is tasked with guiding this national research initiative to identify emerging issues, changes in funding priorities, innovative approaches to giving and decision-making, and anticipated giving patterns among philanthropic families nationally. Advisory group members include:

Alice Buhl, Senior Fellow, NCFP, and Senior Consultant, Lansberg Gersick & Associates, Chair
Carrie Avery, President, Durfee Foundation
Kelly Brown, Director, D5 Coalition

Stephanie Cardon, Chair, Andrus Family Fund
Carmela Castellano-Garcia, Trustee, Castellano Family Foundation

Kathleen Enright, President, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Joel Fleishman, Professor of Law and Public Policy, Duke University

Joanne Florino, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, The Philanthropy Roundtable
Trista Harris, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Foundations
Annie Hernandez, Executive Director, Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation and Youth Philanthropy Connect
Audrey Jacobs, Director, Center for Family Philanthropy, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Tony Macklin, Former Executive Director, Roy A. Hunt Foundation
John Mullaney, Executive Director, Nord Family Foundation
Kathleen Odne, Executive Director, Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation and Chair, National Center for Family Philanthropy
Diane Whitty, Executive Director and Global Head of The Philanthropy Centre, JP Morgan Chase & Co.

For complete bios for Trends Advisory Committee members, see the Advisory groups page on the NCFP website.

Key Research Topics

There are five primary areas the Trends in Family Philanthropy research initiative will study, each with many associated questions:

  • Identity: Increasingly, donors and foundations are struggling with their identity—particularly in generations that follow the initial donors. Are they a family foundation or not? How strong an element is the family’s participation in the philanthropy, regardless of which vehicle is used? How is the balance between the family and the community managed? Are non-family members or community representatives engaged? How are geographically dispersed family members involved and what role do their local communities play in the philanthropy?
  • Leadership and Practice: How are families carrying out their philanthropy? What motivations guided their approach to vehicle and strategy? How are decisions in family giving programs typically made, and who is charged with making these decisions? Which vehicles are they using and how satisfied are they? What are the most common giving approaches and which ones are showing the most promise?What’s working in terms of board engagement and next generation leadership development? How are next generation family members interests, experiences, and values being integrated into the shared work of the family’s philanthropy
  • Issues/Concerns: What are the most significant issues and concerns facing trustees, staff, and family members as they pursue their philanthropic missions? In addition, special attention should be paid to transitions that frequently occur within families and family foundations, such as changes in leadership (staff, board, etc.), the addition of next generation family members, significant changes in assets (both increases and decreases), changes in giving strategies or grantmaking plans, etc.
  • Impact: Do families believe they are making an impact with their philanthropy? Why or why not? How are families and family foundations assessing their impact? Are they satisfied with the approach they are using? Which tools/information would be most useful to families to help them better determine their impact?
  • Future Interests: this aspect of the research will be forward looking, providing insights into where philanthropic families and family foundations are headed in terms of practice, interests, vehicles, etc. In particular, questions will focus on uncovering the innovations that are “gaining traction” with philanthropic families and why.

The research is designed to be replicated every 2-3 years and will provide guidance for more targeted studies on specific topics that can be conducted in the future with subsets of the population. Over time, results of the survey will be tracked to show changes in the issues families are facing, the approaches they are pursuing, and the practices they are implementing to achieve their goals.

The Trends in Family Philanthropy survey results are expected to guide NCFP’s programming for many years to come. NCFP Executive Vice President Kathy Whelpley notes that, “The Trends Advisory Group is really urging us to make sure that we don’t just present the information but rather that we find ways to actively use it to inform the development of new grantmaking and governance programs or practices for the field. And that will give all of us at NCFP a lot of direction for the work that we'll be doing over the next several years.”

Esposito adds, “Part of the reason this project is so important now is that so many family foundations are new to this work, having been founded or at least organized since the beginning of this millennium. Many philanthropic families are in a moment of transition where there's new leadership that needs to come in, or there's going to be a new generation of family, or there's a strategic plan to look at what impact do you really want to make, and how will you know you're making it. So, there are so many moments in time where we think this research will be very helpful.”

NCFP will showcase the findings at our 2015 National Forum in Family Philanthropy, to be held October 14-16 in Seattle, Washington. Future updates on the research will be shared through Family Giving News throughout the year; those interested in sharing results through blog posts, presentations, or local convenings may contact ncfp@ncfp.org.