Council on Foundations

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
The Council on Foundations (COF) is a nonprofit membership association for grantmaking foundations and corporations. “It provides the opportunity, leadership, and tools needed by philanthropic organizations to expand, enhance and sustain their ability to advance the common good” (The Council on Foundations). The Council provides resources, workshops, and tools to professionals in philanthropy to prepare them for the difficult challenges facing them in the United States and globally.



The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit membership association of grant making foundations and corporations in the United States and other countries, founded in 1949 (Council on Foundations).  According to their 2015 IRS Form 990 report, “The Council's mission is to serve people by promoting and enhancing responsible and effective philanthropy”, which they do through services such as Career Pathways - a "12-month leadership program that prepares candidates from diverse backgrounds to compete for and earn positions as philanthropic leaders”; the Center for Community Foundation Excellence (CCFE) - “developed in conjunction with Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, these courses help community foundation staff, board members and volunteers master the unique aspects of the community foundation field”; and National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ - "developed in the spirit of accountability, transparency, and continuous self-improvement, National Standards for U.S. Community Foundation are philanthropy's most rigorous standards—evidence that community foundations seek excellence for their communities and donors” (Council on Foundations).   

The Council helps grant makers be more efficient by strengthening their grant making knowledge and by providing community involvement programs. Membership consists of community foundations, corporate foundations, family foundations, independent foundations, operating foundations, public foundations, and non-U.S. based grant makers. Members of the Council include more than 1,700 independent, operating, community, public, and company-sponsored foundations, and corporate giving programs in the United States and in other countries. Their mission is to “provide the opportunity, leadership, and tools needed by philanthropic organizations to expand, enhance, and sustain their ability to advance the common good" (Council on Foundations).


Historic Roots

The Council on Foundations was founded in 1949 as a nonprofit leadership association of grantmaking foundations and corporations.  It helps philanthropic organizations grow and improve their ability to provide a common good. The Council prepares professionals in the field to meet challenges of charitable giving in the United States and abroad.



With more than 65 years of experience supporting grant makers of all sizes and types, the Council remains the leading, largest, and most in-depth source of philanthropic resources, tools, and professional development. The Council on Foundations joins members with others in philanthropy and with useful resources, strengthens organizations to increase their full impact, and advances the philanthropic sector and a culture of charitable giving.

Council on Foundations members receive many services, and the Council keeps members up to date and informed about topics which impact the philanthrophic world.  Just a few of the topics include potentially sweeping tax reform with several measures that directly affect the nonprofit sector; possible changes to charitable deductions; and global regulation on philantropy, where the COF actively emphasizes its leadership role in global policy to secure a positive regulatory environment for global philanthropy. The COF provides accurate, up-to-date, and in depth information, to help foundations prepare for and let voices be heard when it comes to topics which impact the world.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The Council on Foundations provides leadership to the philanthropic world. It offers many benefits to its members from its heavily resource-populated web site to its many programs and initiatives provided in locations around the world. It also represents the interests and concerns of grant makers before Congress, the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department and the media.


Key Related Ideas

  • Organized Philanthropy: Through their subscription to a set of "Principles and Practices for Effective Grant making", council members provide public accountability for the field of organized philanthropy. In 1973, the Council on Foundations distributed to its members "Principles and Guidelines for Grantmaking Foundations," stressing the importance of full disclosure and accountability. Today, the council requires all members to agree to these beliefs and practices as a condition of membership. The COF is always looking for ways to educate, prepare, and enlighten philanthropists for the ever-changing landscape of the nonprofit sector. 
  • Community Foundations: These are nonprofit, tax-exempt, publicly-supported grantmaking organizations. They are public charities that develop broad support from many unrelated donors with a wide range of charitable interests in a specific community.


Other Related Ideas

  • Corporate Foundations: This refers to the investments and activities that a company voluntarily undertakes to manage and account for its impact on society responsibly.
  • Family Foundations: The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as one whose funds are derived from members of a single family, though this is not a legal term and has no precise definition.
  • Global Grant making: The Council, in collaboration with the Foundation Center, created this first-ever analysis of international grantmaking by U.S. community foundations. Beyond statistics on global grantmaking trends, the report also includes interviews with five community foundations - The Boston Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, Greater Houston Community Foundation, Seattle Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Private foundations: These foundations make grants based on charitable endowments. The endowment funds come from one or a small handful of sources - an individual, a family, or a corporation. Because of their donations, they are focused primarily on grantmaking and generally do not raise funds or seek public financial support in the way public charities (like community foundations) must.
  • Private independent foundations: These are distinct from private family or corporate foundations in that a separate foundation is not governed by the benefactor, the benefactor’s family or a corporation. Of the largest private foundations in the United States, most are independent foundations, although they may have begun as family foundations or were converted from corporate foundations. There is no official IRS or legal definition of independent foundations, so it is difficult to arrive at statistics that are fully representative of the field.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Wilmer Shields Rich (1903-1979) was the first full-time executive director of the Council on Foundations. She served as executive director for 11 years beginning in 1957. She was a veteran of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work, and a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • Vikki Sprull is the President and CEO of the Council on Foundations.  Vikki is a leading voice for the American philanthropic sector and frequently speaks about the impact and value of American philanthropy, as well as the importance of charitable giving. With a long record of advancing philanthropy, in 2003 she helped create FoundationWorks, an independent organization devoted to helping foundations and others in the philanthropic sector use strategic communications to enhance their philanthropic effectiveness.
  • Javier Soto was a former chairman of the Board of Directors, Council of Foundations and is now the President and CEO of The Miami Foundation, a nonprofit that has helped hundreds of individuals, families, and corporations deepen the impact they make with philanthropy. Javier graduated cum laude in History and Political Science from Florida State University and earned his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Chicago Community Trust provided office space in 1949 for the National Committee on Foundations and Trusts for Community Welfare which predates the Council on Foundations. Frank Loomis, retired director of the Chicago Community Trust, became the first part-time executive (
  • The Philanthropy Roundtable began in the late 1970's when conservative donors left the Council on Foundations to protest the council's adoption of "The Principles and Practices of Effective Grantmaking," a statement meant to encourage council members toward greater public openness and accountability. The goal of the Philanthropy Roundtable is "to promote greater respect for private, voluntary approaches to individual and community betterment" (
  • The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (RAGs) is a supporting organization to the Council on Foundations and located within their offices. It is a national service association for philanthropy with twenty-nine member regional associations of grantmakers (RAGs) across the country. Createdin 1996, their mission is "to promote philanthropy by inspiring and enhancing the leadership and capacity of RAGs and their members in promoting the public good" (


Reflection Question - How does the Council on Foundation help make people in the field better at what they do?  Give some examples of how they are improving philanthropy.


Bibliography and Internet Resources

  • Council of Michigan Foundations. "About Community Foundations”
  • Council on Foundations:
  • Council on Foundations. "For the Greater Good: Moments in the History of Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations." Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 1999.
  • Kiger, Joseph C. Philanthropic Foundations in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN: 0313312230.
  • The Grantmanship Center.

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.