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What is family philanthropy?

Although the term is used widely, there is no standard definition of family philanthropy in the research literature. Nor is there a standard definition of family foundation, because this type of entity is not part of the Internal Revenue Service’s legal classification system for nonprofit organizations and foundations.

In practice, however, family foundation typically connotes the active involvement of donors or members of the donors’ family in the foundation. This definition becomes increasingly difficult to measure—especially over time as the original donors die and as donors’ descendants exhibit various levels of involvement with the foundation.

For the NCFP's 2015 Trends Study, our research partner, the Urban Institute, relied on the Foundation Center’s definition of family foundation, which uses a multistep process to identify and to classify foundations as family foundations. This methodology includes self-designation by the foundation, computer searches to identify potential family members listed on the foundation’s board or leadership staff, and other matching strategies.

Check out NCFP's "I am family philanthropy" series for videos of donors and family members discussing how families are making positive impacts on the communities and issues they serve.

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