New Survey from Foundation Source Shows How Donors Engage Their Families in Their Private Foundations


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Findings provide insight around key issues such as next-gen “onboarding,” discretionary funding, and operational challenges.

FAIRFIELD, CT—June 2, 2016—Foundation Source, the nation’s largest provider of comprehensive services for private foundations, is sharing key findings from a recent survey of private foundation donors on the topic of family engagement. Issued in April 2016 to its 1,200 private foundation clients, the survey sheds light on the ways families of wealth engage around their private foundations.

The results were tabulated from 203 respondents, the majority of whom have private foundations with less than $50 million in assets. Foundations of this size account for 98% of the more than 90,000 private foundations in the U.S. The complete survey from Foundation Source can be downloaded at:

According to Page Snow, Chief Philanthropic Officer, “For many high-net-worth donors, private foundations are family enterprises, so engaging the family is a critical success factor. Clients often tell us that their foundations provide an opportunity to transmit values to younger generations, bond through shared good work, and establish a family tradition of giving back. While most surveys focus on the philanthropic side of the equation, we wanted to quantify and synthesize the attitudes and behaviors of our clients around family engagement.”

Top survey findings include:

1. Working together as a family and instilling a tradition of giving back are very important. For many respondents, ‘family involvement and participation’ is of equal importance to ‘making a difference.’ [See Chart 1:]
When asked to name the most important family benefit of having a private foundation, respondents most commonly chose “establish a tradition of giving” (41%) and “make an impact on an issue or in the community” (35%). Although they expect their foundations to make a difference to the causes they support, they want their foundations to make a qualitative difference to their families as well. Therefore, when asked to compare the significance of “family engagement” with “having an impact,” we were not surprised to find that 62% of respondents said they were equally valuable.

2. Board membership is adults-only, and it’s earned. [See Chart 2:]

Regardless of when offspring first become involved in the foundation, respondents agreed, almost unanimously (97%), that they should only be eligible to become board members or trustees once they’ve passed their 18th birthday. In fact, 55% felt that offspring should be in the 26-40 age range before assuming their place at the table. Moreover, when asked how family members should be chosen to serve, 61% said membership should be “based on interest, commitment,” whereas only 13% said membership should be conferred automatically upon children reaching a certain age.

3. When they say “family foundation,” they mean it. [See Chart 3:]
Only 27% of respondents permit non-family members to serve on their foundations. In fact, when asked which relatives of the founder serve on the foundation, most respondents told us that participation is typically limited to the founder’s spouse (63%) and children (93%). Children’s spouses (35%), step-children/adopted children (19%), and divorced spouses (2%) are less likely to participate.

To see the full results of this survey, click here:

About Foundation Source (
Foundation Source is the nation’s largest provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. The company’s administrative services, online foundation management tools, and philanthropic advisory services provide a complete outsourced solution, including the creation of new foundations. Now in its second decade, Foundation Source provides its services to more than 1,200 family, corporate, and professionally staffed foundations, of all sizes, nationwide. The company works in partnership with wealth management firms, law firms, and accounting firms, as well as directly with individuals and families. Foundation Source is headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and South Florida.