The Foundation Center

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Carnegie, Andrew
The Foundation Center collects, organizes, and communicates information on U.S. philanthropy; conducts and facilitates research on trends in the field; and provides education and training on the grant seeking process. According to their website, “We’re an innovative nonprofit that gathers and analyzes data, shares it worldwide, and empowers people like you to understand and increase philanthropy’s ability to improve the world.”

Written by Rick Smith with some content from an earlier edition by Cheryl Gage.



Established in 1956, The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed (GuideStar 2017). In 2017, the Foundation reported in its 2016 fiscal year that 921,000 users took advantage of its free tool, Foundation Stats.  The data is free and available to the public. It provides invaluable insight into grants and sources of funding.

The Foundation Center is living up to its mission, “To strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge about philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world” (

The Foundation Center is listed by GuideStar as a 501(c)(3) public charity and coded “T50” (Philanthropy/Charity/Voluntarism Promotion (General)) (N.T.E.E.). This code designates the Center as a “Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Grant making” organization of the “nonmonetary support type, not elsewhere classified” (GuideStar 2017).


Historic Roots

The Foundation Library Center was founded primarily in wake of the McCarthy era hearings investigating foundations for “alleged support of American Activities", according to Foundation Center President Bradford K. Smith.  Smith goes on to say that The Foundation Center was conceived as a means to combat suspicion and innuendo about philanthropy with public information. 

2016 was an historic milestone for the Foundation Center and for organizations which utilize the information around the world, as the center launched a new database system.  "The system uses data science techniques to machine code more than two million foundation grants around the world by subject, beneficiary populations, strategy, geographic locations, and other characteristics,” according to Smith.



Thousands of people visit Foundation Center's website each day and are served in its five regional hubs and its network of more than 400 funding information centers located in public libraries, community foundations, and educational institutions nationwide and around the world (Foundation Center 2017).

The Center provides invaluable help to start up foundations like Brothers on the Rise, founded in 2008.  Founder Jon Gilgoff credits the Foundation with helping him launch his not-for-profit by offering access to the Foundations Directory Online, workshops and networking.  “I needed funding and this is a place to help you get it. I remember spending hours doing research and getting grounded through those introductory workshops that are free, which is important when you're small and just starting out. I learned to speak the language and how to not sound like a fool, which is important in funding: you don't want to sound as green as you really are”  (Foundation Center 2017).


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Foundation Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grant makers and their grants — a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level (Foundation Center 2017).

The Center’s public service program, which includes its library/learning Centers, connects grant seekers, grant makers, and others to resources and educational programs. The Center maintains and operates a network of five professionally-staffed library/learning centers in New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Cleveland and Atlanta, all of which are open to the public and free of charge (Foundation Center, 2017).

“Together, we’re working to improve the information infrastructure available for and about philanthropy, and translating that into knowledge that drives smarter grantmaking", says David Biemesderfer as President and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (Foundation Center 2016 Annual Report, EVOLVE).

The Center’s data collection program maintains an electronic database which contains information on almost every active grant making foundation in the United States, including IRS Forms 990 and 990-PF of private foundations, public charities, and other nonprofits.


Important People Related to the Topic 

  • Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919): Born in Scotland, he was an American industrialist who amassed a fortune in the steel industry then became a major philanthropist. Carnegie worked in a Pittsburgh cotton factory as a boy before rising to the position of division superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1859. While working for the railroad, he invested in various ventures, including iron and oil companies, and made his first fortune by the time he was in his early 30s. In the early 1870s, he entered the steel business, and over the next two decades became a dominant force in the industry. In 1901, he sold the Carnegie Steel Company to banker John Pierpont Morgan for $480 million. Carnegie then devoted himself to philanthropy, eventually giving away more than $350 million (
  • John Gardner (1912-2002): President of the Carnegie Corporation, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, he was subsequently the founder of two influential national U.S. organizations, Common Cause and Independent Sector, as well as the author of numerous books on improving leadership in American society and other subjects. He was also the founder of two prestigious fellowship programs, The White House Fellowship and The John Gardner Fellowship at Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 (


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Carnegie Corporation of New York is a grantmaking foundation that “aims to do real and permanent good in this world" (Carnegie Corporation 2005). Despite its “misleading and corporate-sounding name,” its mission is to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding" (Carnegie Corporation 2005). Carnegie Corporation leadership played an instrumental part in the establishment of the Foundation Library Center (Kirkman 1995).


Related Web Sites

  • The Foundation Center’s comprehensive website,, serves web users by making many of its databases and publications accessible electronically. The site literally places valuable grantmaking information and the Foundation Directory Online at one’s fingertips.
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York’s website at provides its annual report, philanthropic news, and links to related foundation resources. It also features its online publication, the Carnegie Reporter.


Reflection Question - How can the data found within The Foundation Center website be presented in a way that may be easier to navigate and more user friendly?


Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • 2016 Annual Report Evolve.  
  • About the Foundation Center. Accessed 17 November 2017. 
  • About Carnegie Corporation of New York.
  • Andrew Carnegie.
  • Founders story.
  • Guidestar Basic Report. Accessed November 2017.
  • John W. Gardner.
  • The Importance of Funder Relationships: A Conversation with Jon Gilgoff of Brothers on the Rise.
  • Transparency and Accomplishment: A Legacy of Glass Pockets.

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.