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Public Vs. Private Foundations
 
There are significant differences between a public foundation versus a private foundation. This is a highly technical area of tax law, and this writing is intended only to provide a brief overview. Your own tax and legal advisors should be consulted regarding your specific situation.

A public foundation such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc. offers the donor significant advantages in three major areas : deductibility of gifts, control of assets, and reporting requirements.

Deductibility of Gifts

Although tax law changes from time to time, the full fair market value of contributions of appreciated assets to public foundations is deductible, whereas deductibility of such gifts to private foundations is limited to their cost basis. The tax deduction can be spread over a maximum of six tax years with the following amount applied to the donor's adjusted gross income (AGI):

  Public Foundation Private Foundation
Cash Gifts 50% of AGI 30% of AGI
Gifts of Appreciated Property 30% of AGI 20% of AGI

Control of Assets

Unlike public foundations such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc., private foundations face five principal limitations regarding control of assets:

1. Private foundations must distribute at least 5% of fair market value of their assets each year.
Taxes and penalties range from 15% to 100% for private foundations who fail to comply.
This provision is particularly troublesome for a private foundation which holds non-income producing assets such as raw land or securities which pay no dividends.
Because of this rule, some private foundations must borrow the funds to make the required distributions.

Public foundations such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc. have no such limitations.

2. A private foundation and all disqualified persons (basically, the foundation manager, a substantial donor or any business entity with which he is affiliated or a family member of a substantial donor) cannot have combined ownership of more than 20% of any business within a private foundation.
If unaffiliated third parties have effective control of the business, the limit rises to 35%.
Essentially, this provision prevents a private foundation from holding closely held business interests.
If a private foundation receives a gift that runs afoul of this "excess business holdings" rule, it has five years to dispose of the business interest or face a tax of 5% if it is not disposed of within the statutory cure period.

Such limitations need not be an issue within a public foundation

3. A private foundation is prohibited from having any financial transactions with "disqualified persons".
This would prevent such transactions as the gift of a business building followed by arm's length leaseback by the donor or his company.
Gifts of technology, bargain sales and similar dealings would also be prohibited.
There is a 5% excise tax on such acts of self-dealing, followed by a 200% penalty if not corrected in a timely fashion.

For the most part, such prohibitions do not exist for a public foundation such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc.

A private foundation must pay a 5% excise tax and a 200% penalty on any investment which jeopardizes the charitable purpose. This would include imprudent investments and those showing a lack of reasonable business care. This should not represent a real problem to most donors, but it is uncomfortable to be at the mercy of the IRS definition of prudence.

4. A private foundation pays a 2% excise tax on net investment income (lowered to 1% in some instances). This is certainly minimal, but it establishes a precedent for governmental taxation of charitable funds. This also causes some concern among donors about future levels of taxation of private foundations.

Reporting Requirements

Private foundations have substantially more extensive and invasive reporting requirements than public foundations.
This is based on the presumption that private foundations are more susceptible to self-dealing activity and hence requires greater scrutiny. While understandable, the extra scrutiny involves a very real cost for the creator of a private foundation.

Specifically, private foundations are required to provide copies of their annual tax returns to the state Attorney General as well as to the IRS. In some states, the tax returns on the file with the Attorney General become the source of information for publishing a local private foundation directory. This publicity often causes private foundations to receive dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of grant requests each year. Although some donors may enjoy this additional public attention, many clients find this to be an unpleasant intrusion into their privacy.

Alternatively, public foundations such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc., file a single tax return for the umbrella organization and individual Donor Advised Funds are not listed. As a matter of policy, the Board of Directors of U.S. Family Foundation, Inc. does not allow its list of donors to become a part of public record. Thus, privacy is assured to our donors.

Finally, a private foundation must post annual notice in a newspaper having general circulation, that the foundation's tax return is available for inspection by any citizen who requests it within 180 days after publication. A copy of the notice must go to the IRS.

In contrast, the public foundation is subject to none of these special restrictions.

In summary, how you give does make a difference.

Private foundations are usually established by a donor for two reasons: privacy and control of the charitable distributions. Both of these priorities are made difficult by the private foundations.

Privacy is lost because the activities of the private foundation become part of the public record.
Control is severely limited by the many onerous rules which apply only to private foundations.

Therefore, a Donor Advised Fund in a public foundation such as U.S. Family Foundation, Inc. is the flexible answer. Charitable objectives are achieved through more attractive tax treatment, cost effective operation, privacy, donor advice, and successor advisement.