Practical Guidance

"When Philanthropy Goes Wrong" by Adam Meyerson

In this special Wall Street Journal essay, Adam Meyerson discusses the importance of protecting donor intent and how donors—whether large or small—can take concrete action to safeguard their philanthropic principles.

Protecting Donor Intent: How to Define and Safeguard Your Philanthropic Principles by Jeffrey J. Cain

The Philanthropy Roundtable published this guidebook for successful individuals who want to ensure that their intent is followed within the grantmaking organizations they found. It covers every major practical consideration and highlights the best strategies for securing donor intent. Using real-life examples, topics include deciding on a timeframe, defining a mission, choosing philanthropic vehicles, selecting board members, and instituting safeguards, both internally and externally, that will help reinforce donor intent.

"Why Donors Must Protect Their Philanthropic Principles" by Adam Meyerson

Adam Meyerson highlights the need for Jeff Cain’s Protecting Donor Intent by discussing examples of grantmaking institutions which have strayed from the principles of their initial donors. With this guidebook, The Philanthropy Roundtable hopes to help philanthropists think through the best strategies for carrying out their charitable purposes and core values.

"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.

Case Studies

Barnes Foundation

"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 defense he put in place to preserve his collection would eventually contribute to its undoing.


The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argott 

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 principals 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."


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?


Daniels Fund

"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.

Spend Down vs. Perpetuity

The Question of Perpetuity

"The Gospel of Wealth" by Andrew Carnegie

The famous essay contains an impassioned plea to the wealthy to give their money away while they are still able to do so. (Despite tireless efforts, Carnegie himself was not able to spend down his fortune before he died.) Nevertheless, this remains one of the best known and most impassioned arguments for giving while living.


Should Foundations Exist in Perpetuity? by Heather R. Higgins and Michael S. Joyce

Heather R. Higgins argues for foundation sunset laws. Michael S. Joyce counters that under the right conditions, foundations can be trusted to carry out the wishes of their founders.


What Your Money Means: And How to Use It Well by Frank Hanna

A contemporary donor offers his own update of Andrew Carnegie's argument in "The Gospel of Wealth" to give while you live. Read George Weigel's review of the book for Philanthropy.


Should Foundations Live Forever? The Question of Perpetuity by Martin Morse Wooster

The most thorough study of the subject available, this booklet first gives a brief history of perpetuities in America and then provides in-depth profiles of donors who chose for and against perpetual foundations, including George Eastman, the Jacobs family, Max Fleischman, Vincent Astor, and many more.


"Spending Down vs. Perpetuity: How to Achieve Your Charitable Objectives" by Michael A. Cawley, Eugene W. Cochrane Jr., Heather Higgins, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., and William A. Schambra (Audio Download)

In this Philanthropy Roundtable discussion at the 2010 Annual Meeting, the heads of the Randolph Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies make the case for spending down, while leaders from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the Duke Endowment defend perpetual foundations.


Case Studies

John M. Olin Foundation

"The Insider's Guide to Spend Down: Switching Off the Lights at the Olin Foundation" by James Piereson

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."


A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America by John J. Miller 

A book-length history of one of America's most prominent term-limited foundations, respected by friend and foe alike for its influence on the nation's intellectual life.


"Giving It All Away: Strategies from the Spend-down Experts" by James Piereson and Gara LaMarche (Audio Download)

The former heads of two foundations, one spent down and one spending down, discuss their experiences at the 2011 Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Meeting.

Public Policy

How Public is Private Philanthropy? Separating Reality from Myth by Evelyn Brody and John Tyler

This Philanthropy Roundtable monograph rebuts recent theories that threaten donor intent, including the claim that donors' wishes may be set aside if the government decides it doesn't like what has been funded, and the claim that tax exemptions turn private giving into government "subsidies" that may be re-directed as the government sees fit.