Florino in Trusts & Estates: Defining a Philanthropic Legacy Through Donor Intent

In the October edition of Trusts & Estates, which features a special report on charitable giving, Philanthropy Roundtable’s Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence Joanne Florino and Integer LLC Principal Sara Barba describe why understanding and honoring donor intent is crucial to preserving the American tradition of private giving. They also give examples of donor intent violations that can serve as lessons for philanthropists who wish to leave a lasting legacy through charitable giving. 

Below are excerpts from the report entitled “Defining a Philanthropic Legacy Through Donor Intent:   

“Honoring donor intent is essential in ensuring philanthropic freedom and the flourishing of private giving. We all benefit from a diverse and flourishing civil society, one in which voluntary donors are free to decide when, where and how to give to improve the well-being of those their philanthropy benefits most effectively. Donor intent, then, should also be viewed as a moral issue, one that demonstrates respect for individual differences. 


Upholding and respecting donor intent encourages charitable giving. When donors know their intent will be honored, they develop confidence in the charitable sector and the organizations to which they give. However, if donors lack trust or confidence that their intent will be protected by those responsible for upholding it, some either won’t give or will give somewhere else. Tom Riley, who leads the Connelly Foundation in Philadelphia, summarized the importance well:  

Our American system thrives in a way that other systems don’t because of charitable giving—these institutions of civil society, this enormous nonprofit sector, that provides so much of what’s good and appealing about American life. But when donor intent is undermined, it has a chilling effect on giving and takes some of the polish off it. That’s not just bad for the person—that’s bad for everybody involved.  

At a time when giving patterns are inconsistent at best, charities and their beneficiaries are counting on generous donors to help continue to provide vital services in communities across the country. The recent decline in donations and 20-year decline in the number of donors have raised red flags in the charitable sector. Should the remaining donors lose trust that their intent will be honored, we may see these troubling trends exacerbated.” 

To read the complete report, please visit Trusts & Estates. We also encourage donors to contact us with any questions they have about this topic and to find additional resources on donor intent at the Roundtable’s Donor Intent Hub 

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