What is donor intent?

Donor intent is the expression of a donor’s values and mission for his or her philanthropy. Far from a slavish devotion to minute details, protecting donor intent stems from the principle that an original wealth creator’s philanthropic intentions matter and should be honored and protected, both during his or her lifetime and throughout succeeding generations.

Close

Why does donor intent matter?

Donor intent is, at its core, a moral issue because it demonstrates respect for individual differences and choices and prevents private giving from becoming homogenized and manipulated. Respecting donors’ intentions for their gifts is also an essential prerequisite for continued charitable giving. Deviations from and deliberate violations of donor intent will inevitably dampen the generosity of other donors, who might be reluctant to give out of fear that their wealth will be used for causes not of their choosing. Our flourishing, community-building philanthropy is  dependent on keeping the trust of voluntary donors, during and after their lifetimes.

Read more
Donor intent is important for a healthy philanthropic sector

Close

Are donor intent and grant compliance the same thing?

Donor intent, properly understood, is distinct from grant compliance. Donor intent is concerned with ensuring that the wealth of a philanthropy’s founding benefactor is distributed in a manner consistent with his or her wishes. It operates on a more macro-level, concerned with overall fidelity to a wealth creator’s vision. Grant compliance, in contrast, is focused on the micro-details of individual grants and whether a grantee is following the specific terms of a grant agreement.

Both donor intent and grant compliance involve a relationship of trust—the former between an original donor and his heirs and succeeding trustees, and the latter between a donor and her grantees.

Close

Should I have a written mission statement for my philanthropy?

Yes. A strong, well-crafted mission statement is step number one when it comes to safeguarding your intent. Regardless of your giving timeframe—whether you plan to give while living, sunset your foundation, or operate in perpetuity—a mission statement is essential. It helps your future trustees and heirs answer this fundamental question: “What would our founder have done in these circumstances?” When you’re not there to answer the question in person, a mission statement does your talking for you.

Read more
Why you can’t afford to ignore a mission statement

How Dan Searle protected his donor intent with a mission statement 

Close

What should a mission statement include?

Some of the best mission statements are also the shortest. Broadly speaking, a mission statement should lay out your philanthropic goals, your giving parameters, a timeframe for your giving (e.g., sunsetting 20 years after the death of the donor), and the values and principles that you wish to characterize your giving. Specificity is crucial: Avoid vague wording or phrases too open to interpretation. Ask for input from trusted family members or colleagues. Include supporting documentation. Finally, remember that defining a mission is a deliberative process that often requires multiple revisions.

Read more
Five steps to create an effective mission statement
Close

Can a mission statement be amended?

Absolutely. It’s reassuring to know that the first draft of your mission statement needn’t be the final word on your philanthropic giving. For example, donors Ruth and Lovett Peters revised their mission statement in 2000 (several years after the initial draft) to make clear that childhood education was their first priority. But there is also a downside to this: In nonprofit corporations (including private foundations), the board can amend a mission statement with a majority vote. This raises the possibility of violations of donor intent. As a workaround, consider including your mission statement in your articles of incorporation and protecting it with majority-plus voting requirements.

Read more
Mission statement examples: The Peters and Templeton foundations

Close

Is a mission statement sufficient to protect donor intent?

A mission statement alone won’t protect your intent. By their very nature, the power of mission statements is limited. Even if you supplement your statement with legacy documents, videos, and other supporting materials, you cannot guarantee that your donor intent will be honored. These items may put guardrails around donor intent, but the charitable vehicle can still crash. Getting the “people part” of the equation right is imperative.

The most important function of a mission statement is assisting those who come after you—whether family members, directors, a court, or beneficiaries—to understand your goals. You must still have successors who desire to carry out your wishes. Remember the other planks of donor intent: The timeframe of your philanthropy, the philanthropic vehicle you choose, the governance structure you establish, and—of course—the individuals you bring on board.

Close

How can I supplement my mission statement to protect donor intent?

It’s often advisable to supplement your mission statement with an addendum containing more detail: your principles and beliefs, preferred operating principles, grant-making guidelines, and succession directions. Some donors choose to supplement with a video recording of themselves explaining their values, principles, background, and vision. Others craft a legacy statement to more fully communicate their sensibilities across time to directors, staff, and family. Another option is to include notes, letters, and speeches that capture your personal history and the nuances and richness of your intentions.

Read more
Ideas for supplementing your mission statement

 
Close

What timeframes should I consider for my philanthropy?

There are three timeframe options for your giving: Disbursing your assets while you live, arranging to “sunset” your giving at a specific time after your death, or creating an entity that will exist in perpetuity. There are advantages and drawbacks to each timeframe. This decision is one of the most challenging aspects of donor intent.

Close

What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving while living?

Choosing to give away your wealth while you’re living effectively eliminates the risk of a violation of donor intent in the future. When done wisely, it also helps protect donor intent in the present. Even living donors can find themselves frustrated by staff and board members who steer grantmaking in unwelcome directions and by grantees that ignore the terms of gifts. A diligent and observant living donor, and one willing to make the commitment of time needed for  effective giving in the here and now, is far more likely to ensure that funds are used for appropriate purposes than a donor who bets on a foundation left behind after his or her death.

Read more
An ironclad way to protect donor intent: Giving while living

 
Close

What are the advantages and disadvantages of sunsetting?

Time-limiting foundations, or “sunsetting” them, is an idea that has grown in popularity during the past few decades. Are you focused on problems that will become more acute in the future? Or maybe you are committed to nonprofits that will require decades to mature? At a basic level, you might realize that giving away all your wealth while living is too exhausting a task. In these cases, limited-life giving could be a good choice.

Sunsetting has additional benefits: You can handpick the board that will succeed you, reducing (but not entirely eliminating) the likelihood of mission drift; you can have an outsized impact through your giving; and you get to experience the joy of giving in the here and now with the assurance that your intent will be safeguarded later on.

Of course, sunsetting has its disadvantages. There is always the risk that your donor intent will be violated even on a spend-down schedule. What’s more, your grantees will face the challenge of losing funding for programs midstream. Another concern is your personnel: It can be challenging to retain the best talent when they know their job will soon be ending.

Read more
Donors who choose to give while living and time-limit what remains
Three advantages of time-limiting your philanthropy
Five questions to ask before sunsetting your foundation
Spend-down at the Avi Chai Foundation
How spend-down can work for ideological giving: The John M. Olin Foundation

Close

Can boards decide to sunset after a donor’s death?

In most instances, living donors make the decision to time-limit their foundations. But there are cases where succeeding generations of wise trustees have taken the same step. In the case of the New York City-based Avi Chai Foundation, its board of directors initiated a sunset timetable six years after the original wealth creator’s death, ultimately closing its doors in 2019. In another case, Earhart Foundation’s board chose to sunset over 60 years after the original wealth creator’s passing.

Read more
Spend-down at Earhart Foundation
Spend-down at the Avi Chai Foundation
 
Close

What are the advantages and disadvantages of perpetuity?

Of the three possible timeframes for your giving, operating your foundation in perpetuity—with no end date in mind—carries the greatest risk of donor intention violations. Even so, perpetuity has some notable advantages, one of the most significant being the opportunity to offer long-term support for clearly defined geographic regions, issues, or institutions. Some high-profile philanthropies—including the Daniels Fund, Bradley Foundation, and Weinberg Foundation—operate in perpetuity while still honoring their original wealth creators’ donor intent.

That said, there are many downsides to perpetuity. Ultimately, no matter how clearly you define your intentions in writing, no matter how judiciously you populate your board of trustees with trusted colleagues, there is no firm legal barrier to significant drift in the mission of your perpetual foundation. Remember that foundations that have operated for a lengthy period of time—toward the third and fourth generations—may become far more institutional, increasingly focused on preserving a corpus rather than on taking on risks and making big bets through more aggressive philanthropic investment. Moreover, your philanthropic priorities today might become obsolete in the future, meaning that people you don’t know will allocate your resources in ways you cannot predict.

Read more
Warnings from donors on perpetual philanthropy

 
Close

What are the best ways to protect my donor intent in perpetuity?

Operating a foundation in perpetuity provides a great threat to donor intent, but there are steps you can take to mitigate that risk:

• Put the right people in charge, individuals whom you trust. Ideally, these individuals should include those in a younger generation.
• Create a strong process of board recruitment and staff selection.
• Create an ironclad approach to grant requests strictly in line with donor intent.
• Incorporate carefully worded mission statements and other donor intent documents into your foundation’s articles of incorporation and bylaws and require a significant majority vote to alter those documents.
• If such documents are not available, create a contemporary donor-intent statement based on personal knowledge of the donor and on letters, speeches, or other writings that provide insight into the donor’s values, principles, and key interests.
• Have potential trustees sign a donor intent statement before joining the board.
• Require periodic audits from trusted independent third parties.
• Working with your attorney, give outside parties legal standing to act against your board if it strays from its mission.

Read more
Five steps to safeguard your donor intent in perpetuity
Perpetuity at the Bradley, Weinberg, and Foellinger foundations
How the Duke Endowment maintains donor intent as a philanthropy in perpetuity

 
Close

What challenges do family foundations pose to donor intent?

Family foundations may pose significant challenges both to your donor intent and the integrity of your family relationships. Disbursing a family’s philanthropic assets can become a contentious process, one often complicated with the introduction of multiple marriages, half-siblings, and so forth. Deep-seated differences among family members don’t go away magically when it comes to philanthropic giving. What’s more, family foundations are perhaps most problematic if your giving is ideological in nature—supporting conservative or libertarian causes.

Read more
Donor intent and family foundations can be a dangerous mix

 
Close

How can I protect donor intent in my family foundation?

Be clear in your communication. A willingness to tackle awkward conversations about core values up front will pay huge dividends in the future. Try to expose family members to your philanthropic giving as much as possible, but make it clear that participation is voluntary, not obligatory. At the same time, it’s wise to cast board membership as a privilege, not a right, and consider alternatives to board membership for some family members (such as serving on an advisory board rather than the core governing board). Term limits, as always, are a worthwhile safeguard as well. Ultimately, don’t allow your foundation to be the only—or even the primary—means of family interaction. Continue to convene the full family for private occasions completely apart from the activities of the foundation.

Read more
Six ways to protect donor intent in family foundations
Lessons in family foundations from John and Susan Sobrato
Fidelity to donor intent at the GFC Foundation
 
Close

What giving vehicles can donors use for their philanthropy?

The vehicle you choose for your philanthropy has significant bearing on whether your donor intent will be honored. Some choices are a better fit than others, depending on what you hope to achieve with your giving, what timeframe you select, and whether you intend to involve family in your philanthropy.

The good news is that you’re not limited to one choice—many donors utilize more than one charitable vehicle. In general, vehicles that give you more flexibility in the here and now pose challenges for donor intent in the future, and vice versa. Common options include:

• Private non-operating foundations
• Charitable trusts
• Non-stock corporations
• Operating foundations
• Donor-advised funds
• Philanthropically-driven limited liability companies
• Community foundations
• Supporting organizations
• Philanthropic partnerships 

In all circumstances, your choice of a giving vehicle is always best done with input from your trusted advisers—wealth managers, accountants, and attorneys—and with close attention to your own values and philanthropic mission. Your advisers may have preconceived notions about what trust documents or articles of incorporation should and should not include. Make sure they are listening to your wishes and concerns and using the language that will best protect your goals.

Donors are increasingly utilizing multiple vehicles in pursuit of their objectives, so don’t assume this is an either/or decision. If you are committed to protecting donor intent, then some of the vehicles discussed here have clear advantages over others, but only if you also take precautions to define your mission, consider alternatives to perpetuity, and select your board and staff members carefully.
 
Close

Should I use an incorporated private non-operating foundation for my philanthropy?

A private non-operating foundation is one of the more popular philanthropic vehicles chosen by donors. “Non-operating” simply means that your foundation’s primary goal is to make grants to nonprofits, not run by your own programs. The largest and most well-recognized foundations—Ford, Gates, Packard, Rockefeller—are structured this way. But so are tens of thousands of others, many of them very small.

If you decide to use a private non-operating foundation as your philanthropic vehicle, you have two structural options: a charitable trust or a not-for-profit corporation, both of which are treated similarly by the Internal Revenue Service. Each structure has advantages and disadvantages that bear directly on donor intent, so the appropriate one for you depends on your objectives, your tolerance for change, and your desire for flexibility.

On the upside, private non-operating foundations offer you considerable leeway to operate and allocate your charitable dollars as you see fit, largely free from government interference outside of legal regulations and mandatory reporting. On the downside, that same freedom of non-operating foundations poses challenges. Depending on how you structure your entity, future boards of trustees may amend its mission, bylaws, articles of incorporation, operations, leadership, and so forth in ways that counter your decisions.

Read more
Should you choose a private non-operating foundation for your philanthropy?

 
Close

Where should I incorporate my foundation?

Choosing a home for your foundation can be important in protecting donor intent. Delaware is generally the preferred jurisdiction for corporations, including nonprofit corporations, and is the legal home to many foundations that fund exclusively in other states. Florida, Tennessee, and Texas are also attractive options due to their pro-philanthropy laws. Deciding where to incorporate your foundation is a complicated legal question, and as such we highly recommend reading our more comprehensive resource linked below in addition to consulting with your attorney.

Read more
Where should you incorporate your foundation?

 
Close

Should I use a charitable trust for my philanthropy?

If you choose to use a non-operating foundation for your philanthropy, a trust is frequently the better vehicle to protect donor intent. Once your organizational structure and funding guidelines are in place with a trust, they can only be amended by court order unless a donor allows for such changes in the trust instrument. Be aware, however, that while a charitable trust structure generally offers the strongest shield against legally sanctioned breaches of donor intent, it is not a fail-safe mechanism. Within the last 50 years, serious violations of donor intent have occurred within charitable trusts.

Read more
Safeguarding your intent with a charitable trust
The risks of a charitable trust: The Jackson Family Trust
Seven keys to protecting your intent in a charitable trust

 
Close

What options do I have for my charitable giving that protect donor intent?

The vehicle you choose for your philanthropy has significant bearing on whether your donor intent will be honored. Some choices are a better fit than others, depending on what you hope to achieve with your giving, what timeframe you select, and whether you intend to involve family in your philanthropy.

The good news is that you’re not limited to one choice—many donors utilize more than one charitable vehicle. In general, vehicles that give you more flexibility in the here and now pose challenges for donor intent in the future, and vice versa. Common options include:

• Private non-operating foundations
• Charitable trusts
• Non-stock corporations
• Operating foundations
• Donor-advised funds
• Philanthropically-driven limited liability companies
• Community foundations
• Supporting organizations
• Philanthropic partnerships 

In all circumstances, your choice of a giving vehicle is always best done with input from your trusted advisers—wealth managers, accountants, and attorneys—and with close attention to your own values and philanthropic mission. Your advisers may have preconceived notions about what trust documents or articles of incorporation should and should not include. Make sure they are listening to your wishes and concerns and using the language that will best protect your goals.

Donors are increasingly utilizing multiple vehicles in pursuit of their objectives, so don’t assume this is an either/or decision. If you are committed to protecting donor intent, then some of the vehicles discussed here have clear advantages over others, but only if you also take precautions to define your mission, consider alternatives to perpetuity, and select your board and staff members carefully.

Read more
Should you choose a private operating foundation for your philanthropy?

Close

Where should I domicile my charitable trust?

Like the rules governing nonprofit corporations, the laws governing charitable trusts vary from state to state, and donors should consider several key issues. State law has few default rules regarding the internal governance of a charitable trust, so donors must understand the pros and cons of greater flexibility for protecting donor intent.

No state permits amending the purposes of a charitable trust such that the purposes no longer qualify the trust as a charitable entity. However, the trust terms may permit some modification (especially during the donor’s life) so long as the purposes remain charitable. If the trust instrument does not permit such modification, trustees can petition the court to use the doctrine of cy pres to modify or terminate the trust. State law sets the standards by which the court may do this, and typically requires demonstrating that the stated purposes are impractical or impossible to carry out. A more restrictive application of this doctrine is more likely to preserve donor intent.

State law varies widely around amending other terms of the trust, including the administrative provisions. To protect donor intent, the trust instrument can require strict compliance with certain trust terms but identify specific alternatives to accommodate unanticipated circumstances in the future.

Finally, when selecting a jurisdiction for a charitable trust, donors should also consider enforcement. The state attorney general always has standing to enforce a charitable trust, and many states give the donor standing to enforce the trust terms as well. But state law is not uniform with respect to whether others have standing including, for example, the donor’s heirs or personal representatives.

Close

Should I use a private operating foundation for my philanthropy?

Operating foundations are the best choice if you have a very specific philanthropic goal that few—if any—charities are fulfilling. With this option your foundation funds its own charitable services and programs. That means you will likely make only minimal grants to outside organizations.

An operating foundation carries a number of characteristics and requirements:

  • It must spend at least 85 percent of its adjusted net income or its minimum investment return directly on its own activities.
  • It is exempt from minimum charitable distribution requirements.
  • It provides tax deductions for cash contributions up to 60 percent of a donor’s adjusted gross income (compared to the typical limitation of 30 percent for non-operating foundations).
  • It may receive distributions from independent non-operating foundations and is not subject to the public support test.

Read more
Should you choose a private operating foundation for your philanthropy?

Close

Should I use a limited liability corporation (LLC) for my philanthropy?

If you seek maximum flexibility in your philanthropy, consider bypassing the tax-exempt route and forming a for-profit limited-liability company (LLC). The benefits of LLCs in charitable work are numerous: wider latitude and diversity of spending opportunities, less regulation and red tape, and augmented privacy and control.

Because LLCs are designed and governed by their donors, they can typically avoid the common threats to donor intent. In fact, they are ideal vehicles for donors committed to spending down their financial resources in their lifetimes. Their managers are employees, not the independent directors of a foundation. Moreover, LLCs can be terminated and their assets transferred any time their donors wish.

Read more
Should you choose a philanthropic LLC for your charity?

Close

What is a donor-advised fund and should I use one for my philanthropy?

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are one of the simplest ways to protect your charitable intent. These funds originated within community foundations as a way for donors to create individual philanthropic accounts from which they could recommend grants to nonprofit organizations. Today, DAFs have become a wildly popular choice. The National Philanthropic Trust reported that in 2018, 728,563 individual DAF accounts held assets totaling just over $121.4 billion. During that year, donors used these funds to recommend $23.4 billion in grants to qualified charities.

Ultimately, DAFs offer simplicity, cost savings, and anonymity. These funds have relatively few rules and restrictions, although you should be careful to ask a potential sponsoring organization about its rules regarding succession and impermissible grant recommendations.

Read more
Should you choose a donor-advised fund for your philanthropy?

Close

What are the benefits and drawbacks of community foundations?

If you have wide-ranging interests in a particular locale, community foundations are a prime charitable vehicle. More than 800 community foundations operate in the United States, serving areas large and small. What all community foundations share is a long-term commitment to their place, through the pooling of resources from many donors into a permanent endowment. 

Giving through community foundations does pose significant challenges for donor intent. Once a gift is made to a community foundation, you as a donor have no legal control over it. Giving through a donor-advised fund, or to a designated fund at a community foundation, will offer some protections in this area.

 

Read more
Should you choose a community foundation for your philanthropy?

Close

What are the benefits and drawbacks of supporting organizations?

Supporting organizations (SOs) are, at first glance, attractive tools for donors who value simplicity and seek an ongoing—perhaps multi-generational—relationship with the charity to be supported. Broadly defined, an SO is a distinct legal entity that has a supporting relationship to a public charity, frequently a community foundation or university.

Unlike private foundations, supporting organizations qualify as public charities even though they might have only one donor or family of donors. They are among the few entities recognized as public charities that do not have to meet the public support test of receiving at least one-third support from the general public. And unlike private foundations they are not subject to a minimum annual distribution requirement.

Benefits of supporting organizations include simplicity and tax advantages. But for purposes of donor intent, these benefits come at a cost: By law, you as a donor cannot control a supporting organization, and your gifts to it are irrecoverable.

Read more
Should you use a supporting organization for your philanthropy?

Close

What are the benefits and drawbacks of philanthropic partnerships?

A philanthropic partnership could help your charitable dollars go further. A typical philanthropic partnership involves a third-party intermediary bringing together funders through a portfolio approach. While collaborative funding, by definition, implies limits on donor intent, most funds offer donors some degree of control over the grantmaking process. That control can vary based on the size of the contribution made. Each fund sets its own minimum required contributions based on its mission and investment style.

Read more
Is a philanthropic partnership the right choice for your charity?

Close

Can I depend on courts to protect my donor intent?

The short answer is no. You may have an ally in your state’s attorney general, who has the statutory authority to oversee all charitable organizations. But your attorney general may or may not intervene if a donor-intent dispute develops. And in cases where an attorney general has intervened, the process of weighing donor intent against the perceived public interest has resulted in a mixed legal and judicial record. Ultimately, courts and attorneys general will vary in how narrowly or broadly they interpret your intent.

Close

Why is my first board important?

The people you select to assist or shepherd your giving—particularly after your death—will have the greatest impact on fidelity to your mission. Therefore, selection of your first board is perhaps the most crucial part of this equation. Your original board members will most likely work directly with you, learning not only what you want to accomplish, but also why and how. They will evaluate and name future trustees. Choose the right people, and you’ll be well positioned to see your mission properly executed. Choose the wrong people, and nothing will safeguard your intentions.

Read more
How to choose board members who will honor donor intent

Close

Should I consider a tiered board structure?

Creating a tiered structure for your board may offer some donor-intent protections. For example, the Searle Freedom Trust has three distinct board tiers: one responsible for stewarding the foundation’s investment decisions, another comprised of grant advisors chosen specifically by the original wealth creator, and the third comprised of family members.

Of course, simply creating a tiered structure is no guarantee that your intent will be honored. It may even create resentment and power struggles. The tiered board structure is a complement to your other donor-intent safeguards, not a replacement for them. Whether you should follow this course of action is contingent, in part, on your foundation’s size, mission, areas of giving, timeframe, and level of family involvement.

Read more
Is a tiered structure the right choice for your board?

Close

What questions should I ask prospective board members?

At the heart of good governance, says Virginia Esposito of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, is “building the board your foundation deserves.” That’s the spirit in which you should approach the selection of your first board. Don’t take shortcuts in assessing possible candidates.

Here are 18 questions that can help:

1. What do you know about this foundation (trust, donor-advised fund, etc.)?

2. How does our mission resonate with you? 

3. Have you had prior board experiences? Tell me about them.

4. What experience related to our mission do you have?

5. How do you see your responsibilities as a foundation board member?

6. What role does the board play in protecting donor intent? 

7. How do you see the role of a living donor at the foundation?

8. What personal/professional/intellectual qualities do you think will make a great board member for this foundation?

9. What role do you think you would play on the board?

10. How do you typically go about making decisions in a group setting?

11. How do you think a trustee should go about questioning conventional wisdom or what appears to be the majority opinion?

12. What has given you the most pleasure in your personal giving?

13. How do you choose among competing philanthropic interests? 

14. How do you see philanthropy solving the problems this foundation is trying to address?

15. What impact do you think this philanthropy can have?

16. What challenges do you think we are facing?

17. Will you be able to contribute the necessary amount of time to this endeavor?

18. Do you have any concerns about joining the board?

Close

Should I compensate board members?

Compensating your board has both advantages and disadvantages. Board compensation is one means of tapping individual self-interest for the purpose of preserving your intent. Whether it makes sense in your individual case primarily hinges on the demands of board servicethe time and effort it takes for meetings, site visits, proposal reviews, and service on committees, among other responsibilities. 

You might conclude that compensation is simply unnecessary to attract well-qualified board members. Or you might decide that you specifically want people passionate enough about your mission to donate their time. You will have to strike the balance between pure volunteerism-based board service and enlightened self-interest in deciding what’s appropriate for your unique circumstances.

Ultimately, remember that there is simply no one “right” answer to the question of board compensation. Donors should identify the practice that best suits their needs while being mindful of IRS regulations in this area.

Read more
Should you compensate your board members?

Close

Should board service be time-limited?

“As a general rule, it’s always easier to grow a board than to shrink it,” says Keith Whitaker of Wise Counsel Research. “Once people are on there, it’s very hard to dislodge them.” A workaround that avoids the potential for confrontation and damaged relationships is a term limit policy. After a set period—say, three years—board members must be re-elected to another term or transition off the board entirely. 

Some policies add a hard limit to the number of terms a board member might serve, but you may want to leave open the option for well-aligned board members who are rich in relational and institutional knowledge about you and your giving to serve for long periods. Even in those cases, simple term limits offer an opportunity to make changes when necessary.

Stopping short of establishing firm term limits, there are many “creative ways to bring people into the fold without handing them the reins,” Whitaker notes. You may, for example, establish an advisory council for one of your grantmaking areas. In a family foundation you may create a junior or adjunct board for family members who wish to participate in your philanthropy but will not vote in the governing board’s decisions. Non-voting advisers may be permitted to make grants up to a certain amount annually so long as they fall within the foundation’s mission and do not violate donor intent.

Close

How can I plan for board succession?

Donor-intent violations often occur when original wealth creators or founding trustees pass their authority to the next generation. Because of its importance, board succession should unfold according to a predetermined plan, one that you have carefully considered with your original board members. The sudden loss of a key individual should not cause a crisis.

Four steps you can take to smooth the process are to seek the same caliber of individuals as your original board, write down your plans, create age diversity among your trustees, and get your original board right the first time. Click through to the article below for more.

Read more
Four tips to successfully plan for board succession

Close

What board policies will help protect donor intent?

The goal of your board policies is to create a culture that radically adheres to donor intent. To accomplish this, consider taking the following steps: Require that your mission statement be regularly read at board meetings; require your board members to sign a statement affirming their loyalty to your intent; create trustee apprenticeships to ease new board members into their roles; require peer review among board members; establish board-removal powers; ensure that individual grants bolster your intent; and scatter reminders of donor intent around your building. For more detail on each of these suggestions, read the linked article below.

Read more
Eight board policies to protect your donor intent

Close

What external safeguards will help protect donor intent?

Three primary options exist for establishing external safeguards to protect your donor intent: You may give standing to outside parties to sue your foundation should it veer off course; you may specify in your bylaws or founding documents that certain organizations that share your values should be represented on your board; or you may mandate periodic external audits to measure fidelity to donor intent. For more detail on these three options, read the article linked below.

Read more
Three external safeguards to protect your donor intent

Close

Do living donors have special challenges to consider?

In the presence of a living donor, personal relationships and board members’ expectations and assumptions about their responsibilities may have significantly more impact on donor intent than they would have after a donor has passed. Living donors must take this into account when selecting board members and establishing policies and procedures for their philanthropy.

It is your responsibility to articulate, on a regular basis, your preferred operating style, your goals for your philanthropy, and what strategies you prefer. The more closely you work with your board members, the better they will understand your thinking around the issues that concern you.

Read more
The special governance challenge of living donors

Close

What should I consider in hiring staff for my philanthropy?

Your first priority should be picking the right CEO; this selection will impact all other staffing decisions. For all of your foundation’s hires, dutifully evaluate the candidate’s beliefs, philosophy, and integrity. Within your organization, set standards and create a culture of radical allegiance to donor intent. Finally, consider time-limiting your foundation as the ultimate stop-gap measure to ensure that trustees and staff members do not veer off course.

Read more
Four steps to hire the right staff at your foundation

Close

What grantmaking practices will help protect donor intent?

The first step is to thoroughly know your grant recipients. Do you feel comfortable placing your charitable dollars with a given organization? Trust your instincts. A second wise practice is to make short-term commitments (or long-term ones in short segments), giving you maximum leverage in grant compliance. A third option is to create a detailed grant agreement that lays out a clear understanding of expectations, restrictions, and reporting requirements. A fourth option is to consider making your gift through an intermediary organization that will serve to enforce your intentions over time. For more detail on these options, read the article linked below.

Read more
Five grantmaking principles and practices to protect your donor intent

Close

Why is higher education the most challenging sector for donor intent?

Higher education can be among the most rewarding and meaningful areas for your philanthropic dollars, but it can also be one of the most challenging sectors for both donor intent and grant compliance. Unless you are careful, college and university administrations may ignore, creatively interpret, disregard, or directly violate your donor intent. Higher-education philanthropy may be particularly challenging for alumni donors, who feel a natural pull to their alma mater and may be more inclined to turn a blind eye to donor-intent or grant compliance violations.

Read more
Seven stories of donor-intent violations in higher-education giving

Close

What practices will help me protect donor intent in higher-education giving?

Fortunately, there are many examples of donors successfully navigating the tumultuous waters of higher-education giving. It requires planning and effort on your part, but the payback is worth the work. Four strategies can help: Establish with the university a clear grant agreement that protects donor rights; ally with a university genuinely interested in what your support will fund; maintain strong working relationships with faculty and administrators; and channel your gifts as much as possible through campus allies rather than general administrators. Click the articles below for more.

Read more
Twelve tips for successful giving in higher education
Examples of wise giving in the higher-education space
Eight ways to protect your donor intent when funding academic centers
When higher-education donors demand accountability
Higher-education giving: Seven steps to create a grant agreement that will honor your donor intent
Close

How can I recover donor intent after it has been lost?

Unfortunately, stories of successfully recapturing donor intent are rare. Far more prevalent are stories of significant departure from a funder’s original wishes. If you find yourself in a donor-intent crisis, or you aim to prevent one in the future, keep these guideposts in mind: involve the right people, be judicious about board governance, and craft a legacy statement in situations where a donor failed to create a statement of intent. Click the articles below to read more. 

Read more
Three precautions for recovering your donor intent
Building a mission on the bedrock of a donor’s principles: The Daniels Fund
The moral authority of a living donor: Atlantic Philanthropies
Documenting a legacy for future generations: The Triad Foundation

Close