Foundations: Types and Sources of Information


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Types of Foundations

Community Foundations


  • Serve a specific geographic area.
  • Have broad philanthropic interests.
  • Obtain financial holdings through a number of funds primarily given by individuals through estates, trusts, direct transfers, or other means.
  • Hold unrestricted funds as well as donor-advised funds.

Corporate Giving Programs


  • May be highly structured or unstructured.
  • Take some of the company’s pre-tax profits and gives funds to nonprofit organizations.
  • Assign a staff member to administer the grant process; he or she may have the title director or vice president of community relations or corporate giving officer.
  • Make grant decisions through a small committee of senior management.
  • Tie gifts to the corporation’s yearly profitability, so multi-year funding isn’t likely.
  • Often look at donations in terms of how they will benefit the corporation’s bottom line. Can the gift be justified to stockholders? Does it increase sales or profits, enhance public awareness, improve the corporate image, or link the corporation to a cause valued by the general public or the corporation’s customers?

Corporate Foundations


  • Have separate grant making foundations established by the parent corporation, examples include the Coca-Cola Foundation or the AT&T Foundation. 
  • May or may not have a full time director. If one exists, he or she will often have the title of vice president for corporate affairs or vice president for community affairs.
  • Make decisions through a board of directors.
  • Tie their grants to the corporation’s bottom line, unless permanent assets exist.
  • May operate more like a private foundation if they have permanent assets, but will still reflect broad corporate interests.

Private Foundations


  • Vary widely in scope (local, regional or international); staffed/unstaffed; small/large amount of assets; broad/specific interests; informal/formal guidelines and application procedures; published information available/unavailable
  • Types of private foundations:
  • General-purpose foundations – in both their areas of interests/guidelines and their actual grant making, they support a broad variety of organizations, needs and causes. Usually have clear guidelines about their funding priorities, but the guidelines are broad.

    • Special purpose foundations – Have defined a few primary areas of interest.
    • Family foundations– directed by members of the family who established the foundation or whose assets became the basis for the foundation. Keep in mind that in most cases this type of funding is narrowly focused to the personal interests of the family.

Operating Foundations


  • Make grants to its own programs and services.
  • May make grants to individuals in the form of scholarships, fellowships, research grants, etc.
  • Have a narrow purpose, such as cancer research or medical education.
  • Focus inward rather than outward.




See Supplementary Resources for relevant Web site addresses and other helpful resources

Printed and Desktop


  • Printed Foundation and Corporate Funder Directories published by the Foundation Center, the Taft Group, and others
  • Desktop Computer Database Directories

    • Usually on CD-ROM
    • Sources include Orca Systems, The Taft Group, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The Foundation Center
  • Printed materials
    • Annual reports
    • Newspapers
    • Donor lists from other organizations – such as in playbills or on printed invitations to special events
    • Magazines

On-line Resources


  • Foundation-Related Organizations with Links to Foundations

    • Council on Foundations – The Council on Foundations is the “trade association” of the grant-making world with more than 1,000 members, including private foundations, corporate foundations, and corporate grant-makers. Has links to home pages of individual foundations.
    • The Foundation Center – A national network of libraries with resources on foundations, corporate donors, and general materials on nonprofit organizations and fund raising.
  • Resources for Corporate Information
    • Google or America Online or other online services -- search for the company by name on the Web.
    • Wall Street Journal – -- a primary source of information on what is happening in corporate America.
    • Dow Jones News/Retrieval – -- the parent company of The Wall Street Journal provides a clipping service with access to many databases on businesses and to business-related publications. This is not a free service.
    • Hoover’s Profiles – - Gives useful information on corporate officers (to help determine with whom you should establish relationships), where to contact the company, some basic financial information (magnitude of their assets, their giving potential), locations (if they reside only in California, they probably won’t be interested in Atlanta), etc. Guidestar -- provides access to the national database of U.S. charitable organizations.
  • On-Line Publications Related to Philanthropy
    • American Philanthropy Review
    • Chronicle of Philanthropy (fee to access past issues)
    • Nonprofit Times

Foundation Internal Revenue 990 Forms


  • These are snapshots, but almost every foundation has filed its 990 form so this may be the one source to use if no other information is available.
  • Best source to find 990 forms is The Foundation Center.




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