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FAQs on the Field of Family Philanthropy

Want to get a better sense for the overall field of family philanthropy? See below for answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

What is family philanthropy?

"Family philanthropy" refers to the organized commitment of a family’s private wealth—time, talent, or treasure—to public purposes. From the million-dollar grants made by the world’s largest family foundations to the important hours dedicated to charity by families everywhere, the philanthropic work of giving families forms a critical and inspiring part of our vibrant civil society.

Who are today’s giving families?

It’s often said, "If you’ve met one giving family, you’ve met one giving family." Family foundations and funds are as diverse as the families who create and maintain them. But they are united in their dual-commitment to community and family—and the joys and challenges therein.

How many families are engaged in shared philanthropy?

While no one knows the complete universe of families engaged in shared philanthropy, the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2013 Donor-Advised Fund Report estimates that there are no more than 77,000 private family foundations; more than 201,600 donor-advised funds; and more than 91,000 charitable remainder unitrusts in existence. Collectively, these funds represent more than $685 billion in private philanthropic capital.

What are some of the common challenges that families engaged in philanthropy face?

The key to navigating some of family philanthropy's significant challenges is setting policy that anticipates conflict and change—making the tensions of family philanthropy work for you before they work against you. Typical challenges that families may face include:

  • Choosing a mission and grantmaking focus
  • Making decisions together across generations
  • Managing geographic dispersion - growing up and growing apart
  • Transferring leadership and determining who gets to serve
  • Dealing with the death of donors and family members

For additional information, please see our Topics Pages or access our Family Philanthropy Online Knowledge Center.

What are the types of causes that families are typically interested in?

According to the latest edition of Key Facts on Family Foundations, published by the Foundation Center, top issues and causes among family funders included education, health, human services, and arts & culture. In truth, families and donors give across the complete spectrum of causes and institutions, as well as serving as board members for many of the nation’s leading nonprofits.