The following is a section of The Philanthropy Roundtable’s extensive Donor Intent Resource Library. Click here to see the full library.
The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of “Donor Intent”
by Martin Morse Wooster
A well-regarded definitive book on history’s worst examples of disrespect for donor intent. Concise chapters tell the grim stories of the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, MacArthur, Pew, Barnes, and Robertson foundations. Other chapters tell happier stories of donor intent preserved at the JM, Bradley, and Conrad N. Hilton foundations, as well as at the Duke Endowment.
A report by the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society at Duke University.
Avi Chai Foundation
“First Annual Report to the Avi Chai Foundation on the Progress of Its Decision to Spend Down” and “Second Annual Report to the Avi Chai Foundation on the Progress of Its Decision to Spend Down” by Joel Fleishman
The progress of a major Orthodox Jewish funder that has term-limited itself.
“Outsmarting Albert Barnes” by James Panero
Albert Barnes knew he was creating something unique in the annals of American art. He also predicted that outsiders would try to alter his project after his death. What he never anticipated was that the very defenses he put in place to preserve his collection would eventually contribute to its undoing.
Funded by a former student of the Barnes Foundation, this polemical documentary indicts those who worked to overturn Barnes’ clearly defined intent for his art collection.
“Betraying a Legacy: The Case of the Barnes Foundation” by Roger Kimball
A cultural critic chronicles the travails of the Barnes Foundation after its donor’s death. He argues that noble-sounding principles and occasional demagoguery have masked venal efforts to appropriate this donor’s art.
“A Risky End to the Barnes Case” by Leslie Lenkowsky
The judge who finally overturned Barnes’ will has encouraged other courts to act more assertively to alter donations that trustees or political officials regard as antiquated or problematic. “The result will be not just a good deal of second-guessing about how money set aside for particular charitable purposes ought to be spent,” he writes, “but also greater caution on the part of donors about making unusual or potentially controversial bequests.”
Lee Bass’s Western Civilization program at Yale
“When Money Doesn’t Talk: Yale’s Never-ending Story” by George A. Pieler
The university decided to return $20 million rather than honor its donor’s intent.
Carnegie Corporation of New York
“The Carnegie Corporation Turns 100” by Leslie Lenkowsky
Andrew Carnegie believed that America’s political and economic system makes philanthropy possible; he also argued that philanthropy was best when it enabled others to benefit from the nation’s opportunities. A century later, would he approve of his largest philanthropic endowment?
“Back to Bill” by Evan Sparks
Within a few years of Bill Daniels’ death, his friends knew something was wrong at his foundation. Sparks reports on how the board reined in the Daniels Fund, clarified Daniels’ intent, and established protocols to ensure donor intent into the future.
The former chairman of the Daniels Fund explains how he strove to be faithful to his departed friend by ensuring that the fund understood and respected Daniels’ principles and priorities.
The executive director of this community foundation and national donor-advised-fund provider explains the group’s mission to ensure donor intent for philanthropists concerned about free markets, individual liberty, and small government.
“Duke of Carolina” by Evan Sparks
A tobacco magnate spelled out his intent with extraordinary precision. Nearly a century later, his foundation continues to disburse grants as he instructed—into the same categories, in the same places, and at similar percentages. For a book-length treatment of the endowment, see Robert F. Durden, Lasting Legacy to the Carolinas: The Duke Endowment, 1924–1994.
“Excerpts from Henry Ford Letter” by Henry Ford II (subscriber-only content, New York Times, January 12, 1977)
In his letter of resignation from the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation, Henry Ford II provides a critique of the foundation’s management. After serving on the board of trustees for over 30 years, Ford believed the foundation had become “a creature of capitalism” and that the driving purpose and work of the foundation was no longer clear as a result.
“Foundation Woes: The Saga of Henry Ford II” by Lally Weymouth (subscriber-only content, New York Times Magazine, March 12, 1978)
Following Henry Ford II’s resignation from the Ford Foundation board of trustees, Weymouth examines the events during Ford’s tenure contributing to his gradual decline in influence over the management of the foundation and, ultimately, to his departure.
Milton Hershey Trust
“Milton Hershey’s Trust: A Cautionary Tale” by E. Daniel Larkin
The chocolate tycoon made several classic mistakes in formulating his donor intent. A local observer recounts the legal and philanthropic problems that have resulted from Hershey’s errors.
Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
“Who Left the Dogs Out?” by Mark Hemingway
Leona Helmsley left vague and conflicting instructions for her foundation. When her surviving heir, Trouble, was unable to give input, it was then left to the trustees to sort out Helmsley’s charitable intent.
“The Legal Battle over Trust Funds for Pets” by Jeffrey Toobin
The Helmsley will is only the latest incident in a long-running debate on the question of whether non-humans may properly inherit property.
Jaquelin Hume Foundation
Although its assets are small, the foundation’s decision to concentrate on the donor’s concern for education has enabled it to be a national leader in school reform.
W. K. Kellogg Foundation
“The W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Liberal Grants by a Little-known Giant”
by Martin Morse Wooster
Although the breakfast food entrepreneur was an avid conservative who denounced the “Socialist trend” in politics, his now-liberal foundation’s programs promote ever-more intrusive government.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
“The Inscrutable Billionaire” by Martin Morse Wooster
Reviewing the first serious biography of John D. MacArthur, Wooster describes how this donor seriously neglected to give his foundation sufficient guidance. As a result, his wealth now funds causes he had opposed.
“MacArthur’s Millions” by Joshua Muravchik (subscriber-only content, the American Spectator)
John D. MacArthur was an eccentric man. He gave away 99 percent of his enormous fortune, but provided little guidance for how it should be spent. “I figured out how to make the money,” he famously told his namesake foundation’s trustees. “You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it.” As a result, the foundation moved in directions he likely would have opposed.
The story of multiple generations and multiple trusts, all aimed at advancing the spiritual and material goals of evangelical Christianity.
John M. Olin Foundation
The long-time executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation discusses both the practical aspects of sunsetting the Olin Foundation and also the foundation’s achievements in its mission to show “what can be accomplished in the world of ideas with relatively modest sums of money.” For a book-length history of this term-limited foundation, respected by friend and foe alike for its influence on the nation’s intellectual life, see John J. Miller, A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
“The New Packard” by Valerie Richardson
The Silicon Valley pioneer who endowed one of the nation’s largest foundations turned much of his foundation’s work over to his wife and daughters. Today, the foundation’s giving does not usually reflect the right-of-center beliefs of its co-founder.
Pew Charitable Trusts
“Pew Charitable Trusts” from The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of Donor Intent by Martin Morse Wooster
In his definitive book on the history of donor intent, Wooster looks at how the Pew Charitable Trusts have veered from their founders’ vision, calling it one of the “gravest” violations of donor intent.
“Something Smells at Pew” by David Hogberg
This investigative look at Pew Charitable Trusts’ political involvement and funding highlights how far Pew has strayed from its founders’ principles.
“How a Foundation Re-invented Itself” by Lucina Fleeson
By the 1990s, the Pew Charitable Trusts were changed beyond anything their deceased founders could have recognized. Fleeson chronicles Pew’s tranformation.
Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities
“Staying the Course across Generations” by Kerry Robinson
Donor intent has become family intent over this foundation’s seven decades. A system of membership and training helps to assimilate succeeding generations into the original donor’s philosophy of giving.
Charles and Marie Robertson gave Princeton one of the largest gifts ever made to a college in 1961. Four decades later, their descendants were locked in a titanic legal battle over the intent behind the bequest.
“An Unsettling Conclusion” by Jane S. Shaw
The legal settlement of Princeton’s long battle with the Robertson family presents unsettling implications for higher education donors.
“Tiger’s Intent” by Adam Meyerson
Drawing on the lessons of the Robertson settlement, Meyerson warns donors to be wary of perpetual gifts, consider intermediaries to disburse funds after a donor’s death, and write down the terms of a gift very carefully.
“Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39”
by John J. Miller
This foundation’s donor designed a system of outside watchdog groups with standing to sue, in hopes it will ensure that his intent remains respected. Edwin J. Feulner, “Putting the ‘Trust’ back in ‘Trustee,’” provides more of the story.
“Julius Rosenwald’s Crusade: One Donor’s Plea to Give While You Live”
by Peter M. Ascoli
Rosenwald made a fortune as a Sears, Roebuck executive, underwrote enormous efforts to improve schooling for blacks in the South, and launched a one-man crusade against endowments. On the last issue he had little success, but his personal giving remains a towering achievement in American philanthropy.
Searle Freedom Trust
“Daniel C. Searle: 1926-2007” by Kimberly O. Dennis
How one notable philanthropist used both a detailed mission statement and a set of three governing committees to spell out his intent and ensure it would be respected.
John Templeton Foundation
The son of investment pioneer and curious philanthropist Sir John Templeton discusses the process used to ensure Sir John’s intent is carried out, including periodic outside audits of the foundation’s grantmaking.
“Going for Broke” by Miles Gibbons
Former president and CEO of the Whitaker Foundation, a foundation that helped pioneer biomedical engineering, discusses the advantages of a sunset clause and the impact a foundation can have as it spends down.
More Donor Intent Resources from The Philanthropy Roundtable
Donor Intent Resource Library
- Visit the full resource library to see the best articles, books, and discussions on the topic of donor intent
Protecting Donor Intent by Jeffrey J. Cain
- Get an electronic or print version of this practical guidebook.
- The Philanthropy Roundtable website’s special Donor Intent section where you can find our most recent articles and resources related to protecting donor intent.