OCTOBER 02, 2020

It’s important to keep your mission statement concise and focused. That means more descriptive material is better left to supporting documentation. This is an excellent way to further protect your intent—through supplemental materials that convey your character, passions, goals, and ideas to others. Consider including:

  • A video recording in which you speak candidly to a sympathetic interviewer about your values, principles, background, and vision.
  • A legacy statement, which is simply a more comprehensive mission statement that will transmit your sensibilities across time to directors, staff, and family.
  • Notes, letters, and speeches that enable others to capture your personal history as well as the nuance and richness of your intentions.

Donn Weinberg, a former trustee of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, emphasizes the crucial role of the first generation of trustees in preserving the original wealth creator’s voice for future generations. “Early generations of trustees have an obligation to create a history, to memorize what the founder not only said, but meant and cared about, liked and didn’t like, so that it’s a guide for future trustees,” he says. “If they don’t do that, future trustees really don’t have anything solid to guide them, and as a result they fall back on their own discretionary desires.”

Shortly after being hired as executive director of the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust in 2006, Steve Moore began to assemble a wealth of material to understand and document the donor intent of founder Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock. A consummate entrepreneur from his youth, Murdock eventually partnered with Howard Vollum to launch the electronic instrumentation company Tektronix, Inc., in 1946, which boomed in the electronics surge following World War II. After Murdock died in a plane crash at the age of 53, his will established a charitable trust “to nurture and enrich the educational, cultural, social and spiritual lives of individuals, families and community.”

Although the trust had already been operating for three decades when he was hired, Moore took on the task of assembling a list of people who knew Jack Murdock best, visiting them, and asking about Murdock’s philanthropic wishes. “A whole generation of people who knew Jack firsthand were dying off,” Moore recounts. “They were in their nineties, eighties, and some late seventies. And so I hired a videographer to go along with me, and I just interviewed them and asked them to tell me about Jack Murdock—what he valued, what he gave to, what interested him.”

Moore and his staff then assembled taped interview clips to provide an audio-visual record of Murdock’s donor intent. Moore even had the opportunity to sit down with all three of Howard Vollum’s sons—who had often gone fishing with Murdock—and they shared many “Jack stories” about his passion for the outdoors and environmental conservation (which is a cornerstone funding area of the Murdock Charitable Trust). Videos and oral histories are excellent ways to “embody” donor intent, Moore suggests. “We all learn by stories. A good story illustrates your goals much better than a two-chapter document.”