A private foundation is a legal entity set up by an individual, a family or a group of individuals, for a purpose such as philanthropy or other legal economic object. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the U.S. with over $38 billion in assets. However, most private foundations are much smaller. Approximately two-thirds of the more than 84,000 foundations which file with the IRS, in 2008, have less than $1 million in assets, and 93% have less than $10 million in assets. In aggregate, private foundations in the U.S. control over $628 billion in assets and made more than $44 billion in charitable contributions in 2007.
Unlike a charitable foundation, a private foundation does not generally solicit funds from the public. And a private foundation does not have the legal requirements and reporting responsibilities of a registered, non-profit or charitable foundation. Not all foundations engage in philanthropy: some private foundations are used for estate planning purposes.
One of the characteristics of the legal entities existing under the status of "Foundations" is a wide diversity of structures and purposes. Nevertheless, there are some common structural elements that are the first observed under legal scrutiny or classification.
Legal requirements followed for establishment
Purpose of the foundation
Supervision and management provisions
Accountability and auditing provisions
Provisions for the amendment of the statutes or articles of incorporation
Provisions for the dissolution of the entity
Tax status of corporate and private donors
Tax status of the foundation
Some of the above must be, in most jurisdictions, expressed in the document of establishment. Others may be provided by the supervising authority at each particular jurisdiction.