Broadly speaking, a foundation is a nonprofit corporation or a charitable trust that makes grants to organizations, institutions, or individuals for charitable purposes such as science, education, culture, and religion. Foundations are crucial in addressing societal issues and supporting various causes, from education and health to the arts and environmental conservation.

There are two foundation types: private foundations and grantmaking public charities.

  • A private foundation’s money comes from a family, an individual, or a corporation. Private foundations must meet a "payout requirement," meaning they have to give away a certain amount of their assets every year. This information is helpful when you're looking for potential funders since private foundations remain active grantmakers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a well-known example of a private foundation.
  • A grantmaking public charity (sometimes called a "public foundation") gets its money from many different sources, such as foundations, individuals, and government agencies. An example of a grantmaking public charity is the Save the Children Federation. Most community foundations are also grantmaking public charities.

All U.S. tax-exempt organizations submit annual filings to the IRS. Private foundations file Form 990-PF; public foundations file Form 990, like other public charities. These filings are public documents and have valuable information about an organization's finances, board members, and key employees.

Private foundations must list all grants paid in that year. Some public foundations will list their grants voluntarily. Find out more about how this information can help you find grants.

For more details about the different types of foundations and their history, watch or attend Introduction to Finding Grants, our free class offered in-person or online.

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