July 10, 2015
Federal statutes and regulations that apply to charitable foundations are complex and frequently misunderstood. To add to the confusion, they often are counterintuitive. Here are just a few examples of rules governing foundation grantmaking that I, on numerous occasions, have found to be misconstrued or misunderstood:
Myth No. 1: Foundations are only permitted to support 501(c)(3) organizations.
Reality: As long as foundations comply with certain legal requirements, they are permitted to make grants for charitable purposes to a range of organizations and entities. For example, if the foundation undertakes a preliminary inquiry, both the grantor and the grantee commit in writing to comply with reporting requirements, and the prospective grant recipient commits in writing that the funds will be expended for charitable purposes, the foundation can legally make grants for charitable purposes to government agencies and even for-profit corporations.
Myth No. 2: Foundations are not permitted to support the development, publication, or distribution of materials that comment on positions taken by candidates in election campaigns or on positive or negative features of pending legislation.
Reality: Foundations are permitted to provide financial support to organizations for the preparation of voter information guides and educational materials about proposed legislation and other issues of public interest. Voter information guides must refer to each candidate's views on a cross-section of issues and include a fair and unbiased analysis of other positions. Educational materials supported by foundation dollars must present all sides of the issue in question and be sufficiently balanced to enable readers or listeners to form their own opinions. Foundations are not permitted to reveal their own positions or preferences with respect to an issue in such materials.
Myth No. 3: Foundations are required to receive and retain a grantee organization's written acknowledgement for any gift in excess of $250.
Reality: The $250 written acknowledgment rule applies to payers of income tax such as individuals and for-profit corporations, but not to foundations — which are exempt from income taxes. So long as a foundation retains proof of the support it has given to a grantee organization (such as a canceled check), it need not seek or retain that grantee organization's written acknowledgment of a gift.