Summer Downtime Provides Private Foundations With an Opportunity to Learn, Develop Skills, and Prepare for Year-End

FAIRFIELD, Conn., Aug. 12, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Foundation Source, the nation's largest provider of comprehensive services for private foundations, is encouraging private foundation donors to take full advantage of summer "downtime" to get a head start on their end-of-year philanthropic goals.

Foundation Source recently shared a report that analyzed its clients' grantmaking patterns that showed foundation giving at its lowest around August (see chart). This lull in grantmaking provides an ideal window for foundation members to review their strategies and prepare for the increased grantmaking activity that accompanies year-end.

A graph accompanying this release is available at

According to Page Snow, Chief Philanthropic Officer at Foundation Source: "Members of family foundations are typically dispersed throughout the country, so they may not meet in person until Thanksgiving. That doesn't allow enough time before December 31st to do much more than issue a flurry of grants to meet the foundation's annual distribution requirement. By taking advantage of the August lull, board members can be more proactive and plan ahead to effectively advance their philanthropic goals."

To encourage its private foundation clients to take advantage of these last few weeks of summer, Foundation Source's Philanthropic Directors John Oddy and Elizabeth Wong offer these six strategies:

1. DEEPEN YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Being a strategic funder requires knowledge about causes, prospective grantees, and best practices. Summertime is ideal for researching and catching up on reading.

  • Research causes & strategies: There are many online and print resources for learning about possible strategies and issue areas. Donors can peruse the Chronicle of Philanthropy website for the latest funding trends, or read Philanthropy Magazine. Donors who want to learn about impact investing and other nontraditional forms of grantmaking can visit the Mission Investors Exchange Knowledge Base. And, for more information about specific causes, The Foundation Center's Issue Lab is another potential destination.
  • Due diligence for grantees: A foundation needs to do its homework to ensure it supports organizations that will make the most effective use of its funds. As a starting point, the foundation must confirm that its grantees are in good standing with the IRS as public charities. As a public service, Foundation Source offers access to GrantSafe™, the only free, pre-grant due-diligence product that is 100 percent compliant with increasingly complex IRS requirements. For additional information on nonprofit organizations, foundations may want to consult GuideStar, Charity Navigator, Great Nonprofits, Charity Watch, and, the website of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.
  • Consume content: Information is readily available (online and offline) for every aspect of philanthropy. When donors are packing their bags (or loading their Kindles) for the beach, they may want to bring along a couple of helpful books to inform their philanthropy. Stanford Social Innovation Review maintains a robust list of philanthropy-related reads, and the Grantcraft blog offers a wealth of insightful reads on the practice of philanthropy.

In addition to the written word, there are a variety of podcasts on philanthropy that edify and inform. Foundation Source's own series, Forward Thinking, features interviews with trailblazing entrepreneurs and next-generation philanthropists who are transforming the sector with inspiring ideas and innovative strategies. Another great podcast is the TED Radio Hour, which presents fascinating ideas based on the thought-provoking series of TED talks. You might also try running a search on the word "philanthropy" on the TED Talks website.

2. COMBINE PHILANTHROPY WITH FUN. Many philanthropically minded families use summer outings and vacation excursions as opportunities to advance their foundation work while enjoying some recreation. John Oddy suggests: "Consider incorporating volunteering or research into your summer plans. Some of these associated expenses might be eligible for reimbursement by the foundation as well." Here are some suggestions:

  • Volunteer: Get involved with a local "rails to trails" or summer camp.
  • Tour: Explore your local state parks and nature conservancies, and learn more about their needs.
  • Travel: Build a family vacation around grantee site visits and volunteer opportunities.
  • Convene: Take advantage of a summer gathering to develop marching orders for after Labor Day. One hour out of your vacation time could save dozens of hours of scrambling at year-end.

3. CULTIVATE YOUR BOARD. Summer can be the perfect time to fill gaps on the foundation's board, possibly looking beyond the family to recruit new members with requisite expertise. According to Elizabeth Wong: "Board member selection is about identifying someone in your extended network whom you want to bring into the fold. It requires trust and a strong rapport. Donors can use the slower summer months to schedule a golf outing or meet for coffee to get to know possible candidates and gauge their interest." This article discusses factors to consider when considering non-family members for board service, and best practices to ensure their effective involvement once elected.

4. FOCUS ON COMPLIANCE. IRS regulations pertaining to private foundations are often complicated and sometimes gray. Foundations that aren't aware of the rules, or don't follow them properly, expose themselves to risk. Donors can take advantage of this slow time to ensure that their foundations are compliant with ever-changing rules and regulations. Foundation Source offers a quick and easy compliance assessment tool designed to flag activities that can subject a foundation, its managers, and contributors to possible penalties. Another relevant read is this paper: 10 Rules Every Foundation Should Know About Compliance.

5. ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS. Reflect on the strategic direction of the foundation and evaluate its impact by asking questions such as, "What could we be doing differently?" and, "Is it time to develop a more focused mission?" According to Oddy: "We encourage our clients to set at least one ambitious goal at the beginning of the year, such as learning about a new issue area or expanding one's circle of grantees. In summer we have the chance to revisit those goals and determine what needs to happen in order to achieve them." This Foundation Source article offers insights into how foundations can articulate their missions, and this article outlines 10 things you didn't know you could do with a private foundation.

6. MAKE SOME GRANTS! Just because summer is traditionally a slower time of year for grantmaking does not mean foundations can't be more active. According to Wong, "Just as we might pay estimated taxes each year to avoid lump payments at year-end, donors should consider pacing grantmaking throughout the year. There are plenty of worthy nonprofits, with constituents that need help year round, that would appreciate receiving support well in advance of the holiday giving season."

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. Our clients supply the vision; we provide everything else.

Now in our second decade, Foundation Source provides its services to more than 1,200 family, corporate, and professionally staffed foundations, of all sizes, nationwide. We work in partnership with wealth management firms, law firms, and accounting firms, as well as directly with individuals, families, and family offices. Foundation Source is headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, with offices in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, South Florida, Washington, D.C., and Winston-Salem.

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Source: Foundation Source