Starting a Foundation

How Do I Start My Own Foundation?

As an ultra-high net worth family, you can devote your time and resources to many retirement goals. If one of those goals involves charitable giving, one of the best strategies for effectively disbursing your wealth over many years is starting a foundation. For much more information about estate, excise tax, and wealth management planning for those of you with over $10 million in liquid investable assets, we recommend you request your free copy of our book by clicking here.

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With the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars you’ve earned, starting a foundation allows you to use it in ways that best represent your values and beliefs.

As an ultra-high net worth household, starting a foundation may be preferable to partnering with existing nonprofit organizations. It’s also preferable to starting your own nonprofit because a foundation has more flexibility in the number of cases it can support, and you don’t have to raise money.

Some foundations raise money, but fundraising invites its own set of challenges, such as personnel and infrastructure. As an ultra-high net worth philanthropist, you don’t need to hassle with all those challenges if you’d prefer not to because you can fund the foundation yourself.

By starting a foundation – even if it happens after your death – your estate retains control of governance, assets, and spending. You decide which causes you want to fund and to what degree. Thus, starting a foundation enables you to use your wealth to support causes that align with your values. And they’re flexible.

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If you’re interested in starting a foundation, here’s a good place to start.

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One of the first costs incurred for establishing a non-profit is the cost of filing articles of incorporation, which ranges from $30 to $125. Acquiring 501(c)(3) status may cost as little as $275.

If your foundation will have an administrator, then $500,000 is generally considered the minimum amount to have to start a foundation, $2 million to $5 million if the foundation will hire staff.

Anyone can create a foundation. Start by defining a philanthropic objective, establish the grant-giving guidelines, establish the foundation as a trust or corporation, and get 501(c)(3) status.

The start-up process is the same as for any foundation, except that a “corporate foundation” is controlled by a corporation or a public charity associated with the corporation.

The first step is to establish the purpose of the foundation and how it should be administered. You will need a lawyer to help you with forming a trust or corporation in your state.

To start a charitable foundation, you need to create a charitable trust or corporation with your state government. Then, you need to apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status.

After defining the foundation’s objectives, creating a trust or corporation, and registering with the IRS, you can begin to develop your foundation by inspiring donors to help you meet your goals.

According to US law, private foundations are required to distribute 5% of their endowment each year for charitable purposes. The remaining could be invested to earn money.

You can build a foundation without a lot of money (beyond the government startup fees) if you do some fundraising online, hold fundraising events, and apply for grants.

A trust is a legal entity that manages assets on behalf of the creator of the trust. A foundation also manages funds, but it is created as a tax-exempt organization.

Example of a Thriving Charitable Foundation

Before starting a foundation, you would be wise to study a few existing ones that are thriving and successful.

One example is the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, which supports causes such as education, spiritual growth, arts and science research in the Pacific Northwest states.

The Murdock Trust was founded in 1975 by the estate of Jack Murdock, who started a company called Tektronix back in 1946. The Trust began with $91 million and has given out over $975 million in funding to various nonprofits. Today, the Trust is worth $1.2 billion.

The Murdock Trust serves as a smart example of starting a foundation as an ultra-high net worth individual. Following are 9 tips for starting a foundation, based in part on the Murdock model.

starting a foundation

9 Tips to Starting a Foundation and Fulfilling your Ultra-High Net Worth Retirement Goal of a Family Legacy and Impact

1. Direct Your Estate Plan to Start the Foundation Source

By far, this is the most critical step you must take. You may have a retirement goal of starting a foundation, but what happens to your goal if you die prematurely?

This is, in fact, what happened to Jack Murdock, who died in 1971. His foundation began in 1975. How could this happen? Because he specifically directed that three appointed trustees must start a charitable trust “to nurture and enrich the educational, cultural, social and spiritual lives of individuals, family members, and community.”

Not only did his estate plan require starting a foundation in his name, but he gave it a clear mission. This ensured that even more than 40 years later, his foundation is still giving money to nonprofit causes that align with his values.

Murdock’s legacy will live longer than he did and probably longer than all of us will.

The Murdock Trust began with $91 million, funded by his estate. As an ultra-high net worth person, Murdock knew that starting a foundation was the best way to ensure his wealth got used for purposes he would support. By putting this in his estate plan, he ensured his retirement goal of starting a foundation would come to pass.

2. Choose a State and a Name

Foundations must be incorporated, and each state has different legal requirements related to starting a foundation and operating it. You’ll want to spend some time investigating which state would be the ideal home for starting a foundation.

You also need to give your foundation a name. The primary obstacle here is that the name you want might already be taken. You need to make sure your preferred name for your foundation is available and secure the rights to it as soon as possible.

3. Work Through All the Legalities

When starting a foundation, you have to write by-laws, conflict-of-interest policies, and several articles of incorporation. You personally don’t need to do all this. You can appoint or hire experts in this arena to do it for you.

4. Clarify the Mission and Values of Your Foundation

You must be clear about what you want your foundation to do. Don’t leave this up to interpretation by lawyers and long-lost relatives. Know what you want to accomplish, and flesh out the details so whoever runs your foundation, even 50 or 100 years from now, will run it in a way that would please you.

5. Appoint Managers of the Assets

As you saw earlier, foundation assets span a wide variety. Not all of them require professional management. But the majority of your assets will likely require an investment management team if you want to steward them for healthy long-term viability.

As you saw, the Murdock Trust began with $91 million, has given out $975 million, and is now worth $1.2 billion. They’re doing something right. They’ve already given away ten times Murdock’s initial funding of the Trust, and the foundation is worth even more than what they’ve given.

With smart investment planning, the Murdock Trust has avoided the need for fundraising. They’re growing their assets on their own, at a rate that exceeds their giving. In theory, they can go on forever.

You have three basic options for how to manage your foundation’s assets:

• Manage assets internally

• Manage assets externally

• Manage assets using some combination of both

The Murdock Trust has a lifetime-appointed 3-member board that directs how their assets should be invested. But it farms out the task of managing these assets to outside firms – over 20 of them. So, they leave the nuts and bolts of investment management to external companies.

You might prefer to do this internally. In that case, you’d need to hire investment management personnel from within your foundation. Your oversight of this process would look different depending on how you set this up.

6. Develop Selection Criteria for Asset Managers

This part of starting a foundation is critical to get right. Starting a foundation is possible with as little as $250,000. Typically, to stay afloat, they would have to devote time and resources to ongoing fundraising.

But as an ultra-high net worth individual, you’ll be in a position like the Murdock Trust’s, starting with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in existing assets. That means whoever you hire to manage these assets should use methods that align with your foundation’s goals and values.

You’re putting your foundation’s existence in their hands. This is not a job to hand off to your cousin (unless your cousin happens to be a professional wealth manager with decades of experience). Murdock developed a list of criteria for selecting foundation asset managers.

They also require any investment management firms they work with to have an established institutional client base, among other things. Nothing too surprising with these selection requirements. But the point is – they have them. They worked out the details of this crucial part of starting a foundation to ensure their assets are professionally managed.

According to Foundation Source, 66% of the 91,000 private foundations in the U.S. have under $1 million in assets. Thus, a majority of foundations faces a higher risk of failing than you should be willing to tolerate. Yes, you’ll have more money for starting a foundation, but if you want to give at the scale of the Murdock Trust and continue doing so for generations, you’ll need to put great care into developing an enduring process for selecting your investment managers.

7. Establish Clear Performance Guidelines

Once they are hired, The Murdock Trust requires its investment managers to follow its performance guidelines.

Again, when starting a foundation, you have the control of your governance, assets, and spending. So, use it! Don’t let your investment managers hide from you. Require them to manage your assets according to your values and long-term goals.

When starting a foundation, put in writing how often you will evaluate their performance.

Be clear about any forms of investment activities, such as venture capital or real estate, and you may not want the foundation taking part in, no matter what the reason.

And most important, when starting a foundation, work out a defined asset allocation that aligns with your foundation’s long-term objectives. The Murdock Trust, for instance, has a stated goal to exist perpetually. They don’t want to ever run out of money. Thus, their asset allocation is designed around long-term growth and stability. See more about Murdock’s investment objectives.

8. Hire and Appoint Your Team

You’re focused on starting a foundation. With your foundation legally established and named, and with your investment manager selection criteria and performance guidelines created, you’re ready to launch.

Hire the appropriate people to run the foundation, accept grant requests, evaluate your investment performance, and all the other tasks necessary to keeping your foundation center healthy and generous.

Probably your biggest administrative task when starting a foundation will be accepting and processing grant requests. You will need to develop a system for this and hire people to manage it.

9. Fund It and Start Giving

Again, when starting a foundation, as an ultra-high net worth individual, you’re not looking to fundraise. You’re giving a large share of your own wealth to this so you can achieve your retirement goal of producing a legacy that lasts far beyond your lifetime. And you want that impact to start immediately. Not twenty years from now.

Whatever you want to see improved globally, you can direct your foundation to pursue those goals. That could be political, educational, social, environmental, religious, artistic, scientific, technological, economic, global, agricultural – or many of these at once.

You may decide to divide your family foundations into separate branches to focus on specific missions. As long as you’re there to supervise it, you’ll derive great joy in seeing your wealth used to fund the causes and values that you care most about. You’ll realize that starting a foundation was really a fantastic idea!

5 Ways How to Start a Nonprofit Organization With No Money

Although starting a nonprofit or charity organization has many financial costs, you shouldn’t have to go broke working to improve the world. This is how a lot of new charities get their start. When it comes to figuring out how to start a 501(c)(3) organization, the following is a valuable guide that will help you get started.

1. Establish your core values 

Specifying your core principles is always at the forefront of your to-do list while exploring how to start a nonprofit organization. Your nonprofit organization’s core principles will serve as the basis for all of its decisions, from marketing to participation in market value. So, make sure you pick them carefully and that they support your organization’s goals. If you’ve decided to start a nonprofit out of your passion, you probably already have a general understanding of what your organization should work for.

2. Costs should be researched, and a budget should be prepared

The next step to starting a nonprofit is to plan for the necessary expenses. Since nonprofit registry costs vary greatly from state to state, you’ll need to do some research to determine the cost in your case. There are numerous resources that describe everything you need to know about starting a foundation and the associated costs. Here are a few things to consider.

– Study the IRS page on starting a foundation (or non-profit corporation).

– Find out about the documents, expenses, and time required to obtain nonprofit status.

– Find out how much it costs to start a nonprofit in your state.

3. Start raising funds for your operational expenses

The costs involved in obtaining 501(c)(3) status are among the primary delays in starting a foundation. Fortunately, crowdfunding is one of the quickest ways to raise funds for a nonprofit startup. You can call out to your network of individuals, relatives, and supporters to gather support for funding through an online fundraiser.

4. Develop your own nonprofit foundation

When learning how to start a nonprofit, you’ll often come across the requirements for starting a foundation. Although it’s completely optional, it’s something you need to think about for added legal security. Being a non-profit corporation can help you get bigger grants, apply for tax-exempt status more easily, and benefit from tax deductions. You’ll need to acquire board members, create a board of directors, write bylaws, prepare the necessary documents, and pay the fee.

5. File a request for tax-exempt status

The last step in forming a nonprofit is to submit Form 1023 to the Internal Revenue Service. This form basically asks the federal government to consider your non-profit as a tax-exempt organization. The process of filling out this form can be time-consuming. It necessitates a thorough understanding of your assets and liabilities and your income and expenditures, which is why it’s always beneficial to enlist the expertise of a professional, such as Hurwit & Associates.

The Council on Foundations      

The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit organization whose members include over 800 foundations in the US and globally. It provides a framework for its members to create solutions in philanthropy to improve the world in which we live.

The Council’s vision states that “Philanthropy is a trusted partner in advancing the greater good,” and its mission is to foster an environment in which philanthropy can thrive and support the community of foundations and philanthropy professionals advocating for the greater good. Through this community, the foundation can increase the impact made by foundation grantmakers.

Resources for starting a foundation

The Council on Foundations website provides general information for starting a foundation although it does not provide legal or technical assistance. The Council has a publication that provides details on the laws governing foundations and how to start a foundation.

More help is available from the Nonprofit Law Resource Library managed by Hurwit & Associates. The library includes information on state filing and compliance, governance, board issues, and more.

The National Council of Nonprofits connects more than 20,000 member organizations, helping them be more effective through collaboration and exchange. Members can engage in policy issues that affect philanthropy.

The Foundation Center and Guidestar merged in 2019 to form Candid ( Candid is a recognized expert on philanthropy, connecting nonprofits, foundations, and individuals to the resources they need to make the world a better place. It offers training to members; its members can research non-profits, find funding, and improve their foundations.

Having an attorney who understands the tax-exempt and charitable foundation law is critical to starting a foundation. Connect with local legal counsel through your local or state bar association or the American Bar Association.

Membership in Council on Foundations

Membership in Council on Foundations is available to organizations once they have completed the process of being formed under state/US law.

Steps in starting a foundation

There are three steps in starting a foundation: preformation planning, incorporation, and obtaining tax-exempt status from the IRS.

The preformation planning phase creates the framework for the foundation. It includes defining the goals of the organization. The foundation is given a name at this step. Guidelines for grantmaking are developed.

This phase determines what will be the work of the foundation, who will do the work, and how the foundation will be funded. It may be decided that the foundation should be run by a board.

In the second step, working with your attorney, you must choose the legal form you want for your foundation, either a trust or a corporation. In either case, your state has laws that regulate the formation and functioning of the foundation. There will also be local requirements, about which you can get information from your local government website.

Thirdly, after the organization has been formed, you will want to get tax-exempt status from the IRS, so that the foundation does not have to pay federal income tax and can accept tax-deductible contributions from donors. The IRS will determine whether the organization is a private foundation or a public charity (some tax-exempt organizations are not charities) and the legal form of the public charity.

Trust or corporation?

There are fewer requirements for trusts, but they are more difficult to change, which may require court approval. In contrast, a corporation requires regular meetings, articles of incorporation, and bylaws, among others. However, amendments to the bylaws can be made. The corporate format is easily adapted to the needs of most foundations.

Costs of starting a foundation

For the individual or family controlling or funding the foundation, the minimum amount to start a foundation is generally considered to be $500,000 if the foundation is to have an administrator. If there will be staff, $2 to $5 million would be sufficient.          

Administering a private foundation

In addition to the start-up funding for the foundation, you’ll need to fund the ongoing administration of the organization. You may want to have paid staff, or you can hire a consultant or an attorney to manage the foundation. Or the foundation can be operated by a board, paid or volunteer.

Regulation of foundations

The US Department of Treasury regulates both private foundations and public charities. At the state level, charities and foundations are regulated by the attorney general.

Securing Your Retirement Goals Begins Now

You may have a dream of starting a charitable foundation, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.

Even as an ultra-high net worth household, your retirement goals, and plans can be derailed by unforeseen events. Tax realities might change—surprise medical expenses. Securing your retirement dreams requires taking action today.

If you want to ensure your future retirement goals, such as starting a charitable foundation, become a reality, schedule a Wealth Management Analysis meeting today with Pillar. We have developed a process that builds an optimized investment plan around the achievement of your goals. You will know you’re on track to achieve your goals with near absolute certainty. And you will know it continually, every quarter. See how our system assures you of the retirement of your dreams. We recommend that you contact us to Schedule a Wealth Management Analysis meeting.


To be 100% transparent, we published this page to help filter through the mass influx of prospects, who come to us through our website and referrals, to gain only a handful of the right types of new clients who wish to engage us.

We enjoy working with high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors and families who want what we call financial serenity – the feeling that comes when you know your finances and the lifestyle you desire have been secured for life, and that you don’t have to do any of the work to manage and maintain it because you hired a trusted advisor to take care of everything.

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