What’s in a foundation name? More than you might think


John Oddy


Like choosing a name for your child, choosing a name for your foundation forces you to think about your intentions and the impression you want to create. Do you want your foundation to bear your family name, forging a link between your philanthropy and your heritage? Would you prefer a name such as The Foundation for Child Welfare that emphasizes your mission, not your identity? For many philanthropists, the question raises personal and potentially profound issues about motives and aspirations.

Before you get started, you should be aware of any local constraints. In the US, for instance, where the names of private foundation corporations (including public charities and for-profit companies) are regulated on a state-by-state basis, Delaware prescribes a list of words or their abbreviations that it requires the names of both for-profit and non-profit corporation names to end in. Most states will not allow two corporations to have the same official name and states also regulate name changes.

Aside from these basic constraints, there are other important considerations that may influence your choice.

Family and Legacy
The majority of private foundations are named after the founders. After all, donors appreciate public acknowledgment of their giving. If you’d like your foundation to be part of your personal legacy, naming it after yourself or family is an obvious choice.

There are, however, additional reasons for choosing a family name. A donor may wish to associate his or her family name with a particular cause. The Rockefeller family, for example, is recognized for its patronage of the arts. Similarly, The Kaiser Family Foundation is closely associated with public health. A report or public service announcement sponsored by the Kaiser Foundation carries with it enhanced credibility. And while the founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was already well known for his business accomplishments, his name, through the foundation, is now associated with eradicating polio in the developing world.

Some foundations choose a name to reflect their philanthropic mission. Not only is the foundation’s purpose made clear, but it also helps to discourage irrelevant grant requests and focus board members on core values. And when a foundation name is linked to a cause over many years, the public will eventually come to associate the cause with the foundation, raising awareness of the issue while elevating the profile of the foundation as its champion.

For philanthropic families, too, not only is associating your name with a cause a way to honour the family’s legacy, but it is also a way to pass on its values to future generations. A child who grows up hearing how her family’s foundation has made valuable contributions to the fight against homelessness is more likely to embrace and continue that tradition.

Creative Names
Increasingly, donors are taking more creative approaches to the naming process, ones that deliberately shift the emphasis away from themselves. For example, the Mathenaum Foundation seeks to encourage children’s enthusiasm for math. The Robin Hood Foundation seeks to raise money from the richest Americans to fight poverty. And The Fledgling Fund ‘gives wings’ to documentary film-makers who raise public awareness of important social issues.

For whatever reason, some donors choose foundation names because they want to remain anonymous. A name that doesn’t directly associate you with a philanthropic foundation can help safeguard your privacy. As one client who prefers to give anonymously puts it, ‘I don’t like wondering if people are really befriending me or my private foundation.’

Such donors often choose generic foundation names that offer no identifying clues. For example, one client named his foundation after a creek near the family’s vacation home; another has taken the initial sounds of her three children’s names and put them together to create a word. And some quite literally choose to be anonymous.  A recent search of the IRS database for grantmaking foundations yielded The Anonymous Foundation, The Anonymous Fund and The Anonymous Trust.

Those seeking absolute anonymity should be cautioned, however, that foundations that take great pains to avoid attention can, ironically, arouse even greater curiosity and scrutiny.

Most will agree that the ultimate value of a private foundation is the actual impact of its philanthropic activities and grantmaking, not the name that appears on the cheque. However, a foundation is the embodiment of your vision and aspirations for a better world. It deserves a name that is imbued with personal meaning and adequately represents you to external audiences.

About Foundation Source (http://www.foundationsource.com)
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. Now in its second decade, Foundation Source provides its services to more than 1,200 family, corporate, and professionally staffed foundations, of all sizes, nationwide.

John Oddy

John J Oddy is Senior Philanthropic Director of Foundation Source.

Email him at joddy@foundationsource.com

Comments (2)

stick merge

Generic foundation names with no identifying information are frequently used by such contributors. One customer, for example, called his foundation after a brook near the family's vacation house, while another used the beginning sounds of her three children's names to form a word.

Darlene Felt

Hi, Thank you for your great information. Thought you might want to know that in the last sentence of the second paragraph under the heading "Family and Legacy," the two words "in the" is repeated. The remainder of your copy is clean. Good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *