A foundation is a "nonprofit organization having a principal fund managed by its own trustees and directors that maintains charitable, educational, religious, or other activities serving the public good, primarily through the making of grants to other nonprofit organizations .. [In addition, a foundation] usually derives its principal fund from a single source, such as an individual, family, or corporation, and more often than not is a grant maker" (from the Cleveland Foundation Center Web site). This is distinct from a "public charity," which usually gets money from the general public and conducts its own charitable activities.
You can search for active private foundations through the National Center for Charitable Statistics. The Center provides basic information and posts tax returns called Form 990s. If a Form 990 is not available for a particular foundation, check the databases listed in the "Tax Returns" section of the Tax-Exempt Organizations entry.
The national organization for foundations is the Council on Foundations. For more foundation-related information, visit the Council's Web site at http://www.cof.org.
The Foundation Center is the leading source for information about foundations. The Center collects and publishes information about foundations, including information on individual foundations' financial status and grant recipients in The Foundation 1000. Much of this information is taken from Federal and State filings that are not otherwise available to the public. In addition, a great deal of information is posted on the Foundation Center Web site. You can even order detailed profiles of the largest foundations online. Finally, the Center publishes a comprehensive list of foundations called The Foundation Directory, which is available by subscription to the Foundation Directory Online or through Dialog (File 26).
The Center has offices in Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, San Francisco and D.C. There is a substantial library in all five offices, which are open to the public. The Library's online catalog and articles index, The Literature of the Nonprofit Sector (http://lnps.fdncenter.org) is a great source for locating philanthropy-related books and articles.
The grants awarded by foundations are published in the Foundation Grants Index Annual and the Foundation Grants Index Quarterly. The contents of these two publications are searchable in the Foundation Grants Index, available on Dialog (File 27) back to 1984. You can use these Indexes to look up grant-making foundations, individual grants, or grant recipients.
For a discussion of the tax treatment of private foundations, see Private Foundations: Tax Law and Compliance (Wiley) by Bruce Hopkins and Tax Management Portfolios #468, #473 and #876 though #880 (BNA).
For more information on individual foundations, see ...