Donor Intent Watch: Why Values Statements are Critical in Protecting Donor Intent     

In 2023, following passage of the Donor Intent Protection Act in Kansas, Philanthropy Roundtable launched a monthly series on donor intent developments and controversies around the country to better inform those who care about this important topic. This month’s Donor Intent Watch includes an update on our legislative efforts, a summary and link to a recent webinar on antisemitism sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a reminder of the power of a values statement in protecting donor intent and very welcome comments from a donor-affirming fundraising adviser. 

We encourage donors to contact us with any questions they have about our featured items and consult additional resources on donor intent at the Roundtable’s Donor Intent Hub. We also welcome any news about donor intent we may have missed.  

Kentucky and Georgia Governors Sign Donor Intent Laws 

On April 9, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed Senate Bill 70 into law. Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed SB 433 into law, making them the second and third states respectively to proactively protect donors’ intent when making significant gifts to charities. More information about these laws will be forthcoming from Philanthropy Roundtable. We congratulate our Policy and Government Affairs team and their allies on their accomplishments.  

ACTA Presents a Webinar on “Antisemitism, Academic Freedom and Board Leadership” 

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) presented a webinar on April 11 to explore the growth of antisemitism on our nation’s campuses, the impact of this development on free speech and academic freedom and the appropriate role of trustees in responding to antisemitism, including the donor revolts it has inspired. The webinar was led by ACTA’s president, Michael Poliakoff, and featured Lawrence Summers, former United States Secretary of the Treasury, and former president of Harvard University. His remarks were followed by a panel discussion among Nadine Strossen, Pamela Paresky and Eli Noam.  

Discussing campus climate since the Hamas attacks on Israel last October, Summers distinguished between views that should be condemned but not punished and actions that warrant penalties. Regarding trustees, he advised they avoid statements and actions that violate academic freedom but encouraged them to speak out to set a clear moral tone and uphold institutional principles.  

The panel discussion was wide-ranging and explored how best to define antisemitism and its long history at the nation’s elite colleges and universities. The panelists also engaged in a lively discussion of the line between protected speech and what can reasonably be regarded as incitement to imminent violence. They said “context” is important. But in their testimony before Congress last fall, the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT failed to address the double standards they appeared to be applying to Jewish students and those of other races and ethnicities.  

College and university donors concerned about the increase in antisemitic rhetoric and actions at institutions of higher education will find this webinar instructive.  

View the webinar here.

Values Statements are Critical in Protecting Donor Intent     

Several months ago, I was invited to join a webinar sponsored by the Jewish Funders Network to discuss funder/grantee relationships in the wake of the Hamas attacks on Israel and the explosion of antisemitic protests that followed. Among the presenters was Mark Gurvis, CEO of the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation, based in Vancouver, Canada. Gurvis noted the importance of having a statement of values to inform current and prospective grantees of the context in which grant decisions will be made.  

The Roadburg Foundation’s values statement reads as follows:  

The Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation is rooted in a strong sense of community and responsibility, and engages in philanthropic initiatives in the Jewish and broader communities in British Columbia, across Canada, in Israel and around the world. We are guided by the Jewish principles of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) and Tzedakah (justice) and seek philanthropic partnerships with charitable organizations and groups that are aligned with our values and giving priorities.  

The foundation also lists and explains its core values of responsibility, integrity, empowerment and impact and its operational values on its website.  

A statement of values and principles is essential to any philanthropic mission statement and is especially important for donors whose philanthropy will outlive them. Discussing values helps future trustees and staff understand not only the “what” of your intent, but also the “why.” In times of crisis, such a statement serves to clarify your priorities for external audiences and promotes a clear understanding of what organizations and projects you will – and will not – fund.  

Read more about the importance of values statements here

Upholding the Positive Role of Donors in Private Philanthropy 

The so-called “donor revolts” among philanthropists critical of how college and university campuses responded to the Hamas attacks on Israel and the resulting military conflict have inflated the criticism of donors that has accompanied individual and institutional philanthropy since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That criticism escalated in the years preceding the pandemic with the publication of books like Rob Reich’s “Just Giving,” Anand Giridharadas’s “Winners Take All,” and Edgar Villanueva’s “Decolonizing Wealth.”  

Several common themes are appearing – and re-appearing – in such attacks: 

  • The sources of personal wealth are suspect and likely involve the exploitation of others. 
  • Philanthropists commonly use charitable giving to mask or justify such exploitation.  
  • Donors are exercising excessive control over money which – because of tax exemption and deductibility – is, in reality, “public money” which would be better distributed by increasing taxes on the wealthy and allowing the government to determine its use through a more “democratic” process.  

The events of 2020 accelerated the criticism of donors and the core themes noted above. We continue to see any number of bad ideas proposed including increased mandatory foundation payout, severe restrictions on donor-advised funds, calls for donors to step away from their charitable funds and leave their control to others and renewed plans for a wealth tax

So, it is encouraging to hear from fundraising professionals who see donors as the drivers of private philanthropy and stress the importance of conscious relationship-building between charitable organizations and those who support them. Larry C. Johnson is one such fund development adviser. In his 2011 book, “The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising,” and in his podcast, Eight Principles Voices, Johnson expresses his concern that too few nonprofits see donors as “partners whose goals and aims are as important as the organization’s.”  

All too often, Johnson warns, donors are viewed as hurdles to be cleared or “resources to be mined.” That mindset is unlikely to produce long-term giving because donors’ values are what drive their charitable decisions. An organization’s fundraisers achieve the most sustainable results when they can identify those values and connect them with the needs of those served, fulfilling donors’ personal aspirations and desires to do good.  

Philanthropy Roundtable’s Director of Policy Research Jack Salmon joined Johnson on March 4, 2024, for a conversation about current issues in philanthropy, including donor intent and donor privacy. You can access the podcast here.  

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