Foundation Profiles; Defining a foundation

There are basically three types of private foundations - independent, company-sponsored, and operating - and one type of public foundation - most often called a community foundation. With the exception of operating foundations , each is of interest to education grant-seekers.

Independent foundations make up the bulk and are the best known of the foundation world. The assets of these foundations come almost always from the gift of an individual or family. Depending on the subject range of their giving, they are sometimes classified as ''general purpose'' or ''special purpose.'' The Ford (largest of the independents), Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations are some of the better-known ones.

Company-sponsored foundations are creatures of the companies that fund them and do not have an independent endowment source. They are funded on an annual basis and are therefore somewhat more directly tied to the performance of the broader economy. The amount of money they give annually varies a great deal, but they tend to give a large number of relatively small grants.

The Exxon Education Foundation, Sears Roebuck Foundation, and Arco Foundation are examples.

Foundation Center statistics place only eight company-sponsored foundations among the 50 foundations giving the largest number of grants. But recent trends point to a significantly increased role for corporations in their communities.

''The need of corporations for getting money into their communities has led corporations to overshadow what private foundations can do,'' says Tom James of the Spencer Foundation,

Community foundations are public foundations and generally make grants only in their own metropolitian areas. They are governed by boards broadly representative of their community. Their local base makes them among the most open in information, and they usually make a great deal of information available about their activities.

According to the Foundation Center there are about 250 community foundations, with those in Cleveland, New York, and San Francisco some of the largest and best known.

The federal government runs several programs which appear similar to foundations, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. But they are operated with tax money appropriated by Congress and function as government agencies rather than private foundations in making grants.

The main information resource on federal funding is the ''Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance,'' which provides an annual listing of all federal agencies and the types of programs they fund. (For where to consult catalog, see Foundation Center story B-12)

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