[Ed. note: The Association of Small Foundations was re-launched in 2014 as Exponent Philanthropy. Click here for an updated profile.]
The Association of Small Foundations helps foundations with minimal staff (or none at all) improve and sustain their philanthropic activities by providing information resources and assistance. The foundations that ASF supports perform all aspects of foundation work, including running public relations campaigns, writing letters, cutting checks, mailing and processing grant applications, working with trustees and grantees, managing assets, and handling tax matters.
Foundations with small staffs or none at all account for half of total foundation funding in the United States, providing essential financial support to hospitals, libraries, youth programs, senior programs, education, historic preservation, the arts, social services, and other activities in communities nationwide. Yet these foundations often feel isolated from the philanthropic community of larger, more established foundations. As a result, ASF was formed to help small foundations with 10 or fewer staff members and small budgets succeed in their important work. In the past five years, ASF's membership has grown to more than 2,600 small foundations. About half of those are operated entirely by volunteers and have endowments of less than $5 million. Collectively, the members manage $50 billion in endowment, and their 2,500 staff members and 14,000 trustees distributed more than $2.6 billion last year.
ASF members receive a quarterly newsletter, with articles written by foundation trustees and staff that deal with management, policy, and personnel issues affecting small foundations. The newsletter also contains reviews of relevant books and computer programs, a tax column, and tested techniques for effective grassroots grant making.
To help small foundations learn from one other, ASF operates a "Colleague to Colleague" program that allows small foundations to locate peers willing to share expertise on a variety of topics. In addition, ASF will bring small foundations together in 2002 by hosting four regional meetings, six trustee-training seminars, and a national conference in San Antonio that should draw 1,000 participants.
On the public policy front, ASF operates the "Small Foundation Awareness Program," which is designed to help member trustees inform policy makers about the positive impact foundations have at the local level and the implications of federal rules and taxes on philanthropic operations. The program sponsors an annual visit to Capitol Hill, which is scheduled for this spring.
This year ASF has been developing the "Trustee Leadership Seminar" program with support from the Mott Foundation. The seminar is designed to be a one-day conference for board members to gather for dialogue and training on small foundation issues. The most recent session was held in November in Boston and drew 70 foundation trustees. ASF plans to offer six sessions in locations across the United States next year.
ASF's Web site offers small foundations a wealth of information to help run their organizations more effectively. The portion of the site devoted only to ASF members includes tips for managing small foundations and instructions on how to analyze financial statements of potential grantees. ASF also provides its members with a number of sample documents, including bylaws, investment policies, grant applications, letters to grantees and prospective grantees, grant reports, and annual reports. The organization also provides links to the Web sites of ASF members and will host Web pages for those without their own sites.