Foundation Operations: Board Issues-> Glossary of Terms
Definitions of commonly used terms in foundation governance
Reprinted with permission from Grantmaking Basics: A Field Guide for Funders, (c) 1999 by the Council on Foundations. For additional information, please visit www.cof.org.
501(c)(3): Section of the Internal Revenue Code that designates an organization as charitable and tax-exempt. Organizations qualifying under this section include religious, educational, charitable, amateur athletic, scientific or literary groups, organizations testing for public safety or organizations involved in prevention of cruelty to children or animals. Most organizations seeking foundation or corporate contributions secure a Section 01(c)(3) classification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Note: The tax code sets forth a list of sections - 501(c)(4-26) - to identify other nonprofit organizations whose function is not solely charitable (e.g., professional or veterans organizations, chambers of commerce, fraternal societies, etc.).
509(a): Section of the tax code that defines public charities (as opposed to private foundations). A 501(c)(3) organization also must have a 509(a) designation to further define the agency as a public charity. (See Public Support Test.)
Articles of Incorporation: A document filed with the secretary of state or other appropriate state office by persons establishing a corporation. This is the first legal step in forming a nonprofit corporation.
Assets: Cash, stocks, bonds, real estate or other holdings of a foundation. Generally, assets are invested and the income is used to make grants. (See Payout Requirement.)
Bequest: A sum of money made available upon the donor's death.
Bylaws: Rules governing the operation of a nonprofit corporation. Bylaws often provide the methods for the selection of directors, the creation of committees and the conduct of meetings.
Charity: In its traditional legal meaning, the word "charity" encompasses religion, education, assistance to the government, promotion of health, relief of poverty or distress and other purposes that benefit the community. Nonprofit organizations that are organized and operated to further one of these purposes generally will be recognized as exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (see 501(c)(3)) and will be eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable gifts.
Community Foundation: A community foundation is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, autonomous, publicly supported, philanthropic institution composed primarily of permanent funds established by many separate donors of the long-term diverse, charitable benefit of the residents of a defined geographic area. Typically, a community foundation serves an area no larger than a state. Community foundations provide an array of services to donors who wish to establish endowed funds without incurring the administrative and legal costs of starting independent foundations. There are more than 500 community foundations across the United States today. The Cleveland Foundation is the oldest; the New York Community Trust is the largest.
Corporate Foundation: A corporate (company-sponsored) foundation is a private foundation that derives its grantmaking funds primarily from the contributions of a profit-making business. The company-sponsored foundation often maintains close ties with the donor company, but it is a separate, legal organization, sometimes with its own endowment, and is subject to the same rules and regulations as other private foundations. There are more than 2,000 corporate foundations in the United States holding some $11 billion in assets. (See Corporate Giving Program.)
Corporate Giving Program: A corporate giving (direct giving) program is a grantmaking program established and administered within a profit-making company. Gifts or grants go directly to charitable organizations from the corporation. Corporate foundations/giving programs do not have a separate endowment; their expense is planned as part of the company's annual budgeting process and usually is funded with pre-tax income. The Foundation Center has identified more than 700 corporate foundations/giving programs in the United States; however, it is believed that several thousand are in operation.
Decline: Also referred to as Denial, a decline is the refusal or rejection of a grant request. Some declination letters explain why the grant was not made, but many do not.
Designated Funds: A type of restricted fund in which the fund beneficiaries are specified by the grantors.
Discretionary Funds: Grant funds distributed at the discretion of one or more trustees, which usually do not require prior approval by the full board of directors. The governing board can delegate discretionary authority to staff.
Disqualified Person: (Private Foundation) Substantial contributors to a private foundation, foundation managers, certain public officials, family members of disqualified persons and corporations and partnerships in which disqualified persons hold significant interests. The law bars most financial transactions between disqualified persons and foundations. (See Self-Dealing.)
Disqualified Person: (Public Charity) As applied to public charities, the term disqualified person includes (1) organization managers, (2) and any other person who, within the past five years, was in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the organization, (3) family members of the above, and (4) businesses they control. Paying excessive benefits to a disqualified person will result in the imposition of penalty excise taxes on that person, and, under some circumstances, on the charity's board of directors (See Intermediate Sanctions.)
Donor Advised Fund: A fund held by a community foundation where the donor, or a committee appointed by the donor, may recommend eligible charitable recipients for grants from the fund. The community foundation's governing body must be free to accept or reject the recommendations.
Donor Designated Fund: A fund held by a community foundation where the donor has specified that the fund's income or assets be used for the benefit of one or more specific public charities. These funds are sometimes established by a transfer of assets by a public charity to a fund designated for its own benefit, in which case they may be known as grantee endowments. The community foundation's governing body must have the power to redirect resources in the fund if it determines that the donor's restriction is unnecessary, incapable of fulfillment or inconsistent with the charitable needs of the community or area served.
Endowment: The principal amount of gifts and bequests that are accepted subject to a requirement that the principal be maintained intact and invested to create a source of income for a foundation. Donors may require that the principal remain intact in perpetuity, or for a defined period of time or until sufficient assets have been accumulated to achieve a designated purpose.
Excise Tax: The annual tax of 1 or 2 percent of net investment income that must be paid to the IRS by private foundations.
Expenditure Responsibility: When a private foundation makes a grant to an organization that is not classified by the IRS as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) and as a public charity according to Section 509(a), it is required by law to ensure that the funds are spent for charitable purposes and not for private gain or political activities. Such grants require a pre-grant inquiry and a detailed, written agreement. Special reports on the status of the grant must be filed with the IRS, and the grantees must be listed on the foundation's IRS Form 990-PF.
Family Foundation: "Family foundation" is not a legal term, and therefore, it has no precise definition. Yet, approximately two-thirds of the estimated 44,000 private foundations in this country are believed to be family managed. The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as a foundation whose funds are derived from members of a single family. At least one family member must continue to serve as an officer or board member of the foundation, and as the donor, they or their relatives play a significant role in governing and/or managing the foundation throughout its life. Most family foundations are run by family members who serve as trustees or directors on a voluntary basis - receiving no compensation; in many cases, second- and third generation descendants of the original donors manage the foundation. Most family foundations concentrate their giving locally, in their communities.
Field of Interest Fund: A fund held by a community foundation that is used for a specific charitable purpose such as education or health research.
Funding Cycle: A chronological pattern of proposal review, decisionmaking and applicant notification. Some donor organizations make grants at set intervals (quarterly, semi-annually, etc.), while others operate under an annual cycle.
Giving Pattern: The overall picture of the types of projects and programs that a donor has supported historically. The past record may include areas of interest, geographic locations, dollar amount of funding or kinds of organizations supported.
Grant Monitoring: The ongoing assessment of the progress of the activities funded by a donor, with the objective of determining if the terms and conditions of the grant are being met and if the goal of the grant is likely to be achieved.
Intermediate Sanctions: Penalty taxes applied to disqualified persons of public charities (see Disqualified Person) that receive an excessive benefit from financial transactions with the charity. An excessive benefit may result from overcompensation for services or from other transactions such as charging excessive rent on property rented to the charity. Unlike private foundations, public charities are not barred from engaging in financial transactions with disqualified persons as long as the transaction is fair to the charity. Penalty taxes also may apply to organization managers, such as the charity's board, that knowingly approve an excess benefit transaction.
Jeopardy Investment: An investment that risks the foundation's ability to carry out its exempt purposes. Although certain types of investments are subject to careful examination, no single type is automatically a jeopardy investment. Generally, a jeopardy investment is found to be made when a foundation's managers have failed to exercise ordinary business care and prudence. The result of a jeopardy investment may be penalty taxes imposed upon a foundation and its managers. (See Program Related Investment.)
Leverage: A method of grantmaking practiced by some foundations. Leverage occurs when a small amount of money is given with the express purpose of attracting funding from other sources or of providing the organization with the tools it needs to raise other kinds of funds. Sometimes known as the "multiplier effect."
Limited-Purpose Foundation: A type of foundation that restricts its giving to one or very few areas of interest, such as higher education or medical care.
Loaned Executives: Corporate executives who work for nonprofit organizations for a limited period of time while continuing to be paid by their permanent employers.
Lobbying: Efforts to influence legislation by influencing the opinion of legislators, legislative staff and government administrators directly involved in drafting legislative proposals. The Internal Revenue Code sets limits on lobbying by organizations that are exempt from tax under Section 501(c)(3). Public charities (see Public Charity) may lobby as long as lobbying does not become a substantial part of their activities. Private foundations (see Private Foundations) generally may not lobby except in limited circumstances such as on issues affecting their tax-exempt status or the deductibility of gifts to them. Conducting nonpartisan analysis and research and disseminating the results to the public generally is not lobbying for purposes of these restrictions.
Matching Gifts Program: A grant or contributions program that will match employees' or directors' gifts made to qualifying educational, arts and cultural, health or other organizations. Specific guidelines are established by each employer or foundation. (Some foundations also use this program for their trustees.)
Operating Foundation: Also called private operating foundations, operating foundations are private foundations that use the bulk of their income to provide charitable services or to run charitable programs of their own. They make few, if any, grants to outside organizations. To qualify as an operating foundation, specific rules, in addition to the applicable rules for private foundations, must be followed. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Getty Trust are examples of operating foundations.
Payout Requirement: The minimum amount that a private foundation is required to expend for charitable purposes (includes grants and necessary and reasonable administrative expenses). In general, a private foundation must pay out annually approximately 5 percent of the average market value of its assets.
Post-Grant Evaluation: A review of the results of a grant, with the emphasis upon whether or not the grant achieved its desired objective.
Private Foundation: A nongovernmental, nonprofit organization with funds (usually from a single source, such as an individual, family or corporation) and program managed by its own trustees or directors, established to maintain or aid social, educational, religious or other charitable activities serving the common welfare, primarily through grantmaking. U.S. private foundations are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and are classified by the IRS as a private foundation as defined in the code.
Program Officer: Also referred to as a corporate affairs officer, program associate, public affairs officer or community affairs officer, a program officer is a staff member of a foundation or corporate giving program who may do some or all of the following: recommend policy, review grant requests, manage the budget and process applications for the board of directors or contributions committee.
Program-Related Investment: A loan or other investment made by a private foundation to a profitmaking or nonprofit organization for a project related to the foundation's stated purpose and interests. Program-related investments are an exception to the general rule barring jeopardy investments. Often, program-related investments are made from a revolving fund; the foundation generally expects to receive its money back with limited, or below-market, interest, which then will provide additional funds for loans to other organizations. A program-related investment may involve loan guarantees, purchases of stock or other kinds of financial support.
Public Charity: A nonprofit organization that is exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that receives its financial support from a broad segment of the general public. Religious, educational and medical institutions are deemed to be public charities. Other organizations exempt under Section 501(c)(3) must pass a public support test (see Public Support Test) to be considered public charities, or must be formed to benefit an organization that is a public charity (see Supporting Organizations). Charitable organizations that are not public charities are private foundations and are subject to more stringent regulatory and reporting requirements (see Private Foundations).
Public Foundation: Public foundations, along with community foundations, are recognized as public charities by the IRS. Although they may provide direct charitable services to the public as other nonprofits do, their primary focus is on grantmaking. To be eligible for membership in the Council, a public foundation must grant at least $60,000 yearly and must dedicate at least 50 percent of its organizational budget to a competitive grantmaking program.
Public Support Test: There are two public support tests, both of which are designed to ensure that a charitable organization is responsive to the general public rather than a limited number of persons. One test, sometimes referred to as 509(a)(1) or 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) for the sections of the Internal Revenue Code where it is found, is for charities like community foundations that mainly rely on gifts, grants, and contributions. To be automatically classed as a public charity under this test, organizations must show that they normally receive at least one-third of their support from the general public (including government agencies and foundations). However, an organization that fails the automatic test still may qualify as a public charity if its public support equals at least 10 percent of all support and it also has a variety of other characteristics - such as a broad-based board - that make it sufficiently "public." The second test, sometimes referred to as the section 509(a)(2) test, applies to charities, such as symphony orchestras or theater groups, that get a substantial part of their income from the sale of services that further their mission, such as the sale of tickets to performances. These charities must pass a one-third/one-third test. That is, they must demonstrate that their sales and contributions normally add up to at least one-third of their financial support, but their income from investments and unrelated business activities does not exceed one-third of support.
Self-Dealing: A private foundation is generally prohibited from entering into any financial transaction with disqualified persons (see Disqualified Person). The few exceptions to this rule include paying reasonable compensation to a disqualified person for services that are necessary to fulfilling the foundation's charitable purposes. Violations will result in an initial penalty tax equal to 5 percent of the amount involved, payable by the self-dealer.