At the recent Southeastern Council on Foundations meeting in Charleston the people behind Family Foundations gathered to discuss their grantmaking. Tasha Tucker of Coastal Community Foundation spoke to the group and wowed them with her experience managing six different competitive grantmaking programs each with their own strategy, mission, and eligibility requirements. Most of the attendees struggle to manage one. Tasha and her colleagues at community foundations around the country manage dozens if not hundreds of separate grantmaking programs all at the same time.
While Family Foundations have their own particular "family issues" (try telling your grandfather about the power of webpages..."its like a newspaper that's available 24/7"), their own particular reasons to be visible or not ("we want to learn from the nonprofit sector by reading the applications they submit" or "we really do not want too many applications"), and each have their own worries about the future ("You mean the US Congress could force us to distribute more money?" and "How are we going to decide on funding when all the cousins come of age and are involved in the decision-making process") however, they also have much in common.
For example, most Family Foundations do not have webpages. This means that grantseekers do not even know that the Family Foundation's money could be available to them. To find out you need to ask other nonprofits who have been funded about how their funding came. They can lead you to Family Foundations in your area.
Most attendees at this conference would prefer competitive grantmaking with a formal review process rather than letting family members just make funding recommendations even though the latter practice is widespread. This means that nonprofits should call the program officers or family members of your local Family Foundation and ask to give them a tour of your operation. They will welcome the opportunity to be educated about community issues. Keep the conversation broad and not just focussed on your mission or your organization and you will help them be better grantmakers.
Most Family Foundations struggle to define their mission and struggle to stick to their mission as successive generations shape their grantmaking. Help them by carefully reading the IRS 990's for the Family Foundation and by asking the decision-makers how they view their mission. You can help them make good decisions by, once again, educating them about what works in your community.
After a long day at the conference one of the younger members of the Board of a large family foundation said, "this conference feels like an addiction recovery program." In his blog post for the day he wrote "I am not alone". While not in recovery he felt that just knowing that others are stuggling with the same issues gives him strength. Knowing the issues he and others face should give you the strength to help them out and perhaps the insights to help yourself to future funding.