Case Studies

Stories of success and failure in preserving donor intent

The following is a section of The Philanthropy Roundtable's extensive Donor Intent Resource Library. Click here to see the full library.

Avi Chai Foundation

"First Annual Report to the Avi Chai Foundation on the Progress of Its Decision to Spend Down" and "Second Annual Report to the Avi Chai Foundation on the Progress of Its Decision to Spend Down" by Joel Fleishman

Fleishman reports on the progress of a major Orthodox Jewish funder that has term-limited itself.


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


"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 principles 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."


Lee Bass's Western Civilization program at Yale

"When Money Doesn't Talk: Yale's Never-ending Story" by George A. Pieler

The university decided to return $20 million rather than honor its donor's intent.


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.


Duke Endowment

"Duke of Carolina" by Evan Sparks

A tobacco magnate spelled out his intent with extraordinary precision. Nearly a century later, his foundation continues to disburse grants as he instructed—into the same categories, in the same places, and at similar percentages. For a book-length treatment of the endowment, see Robert F. Durden, Lasting Legacy to the Carolinas: The Duke Endowment, 1924-1994.


Milton Hershey Trust

"Milton Hershey's Trust: A Cautionary Tale" by E. Daniel Larkin

The chocolate tycoon made several classic mistakes in formulating his donor intent. A local observer recounts the legal and philanthropic problems that have resulted from Hershey’s errors.


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.” 


Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities

"Staying the Course across Generations" by Kerry Robinson

Donor intent has become family intent over this foundation’s seven decades. A system of membership and training helps to assimilate succeeding generations into the original donor’s philosophy of giving.


Robertson Foundation

"An Unsettling Conclusion" by Jane S. Shaw

The legal settlement of Princeton’s long battle with the Robertson family presents unsettling implications for higher education donors.


"Tiger's Intent" by Adam Meyerson

Drawing on the lessons of the Robertson settlement, Meyerson warns donors to be wary of perpetual gifts, consider intermediaries to disburse funds after a donor's death, and write down the terms of a gift very carefully.


Rosenwald Fund

"Julius Rosenwald's Crusade: One Donor's Plea to Give While You Live" by Peter M. Ascoli

Rosenwald made a fortune as a Sears, Roebuck executive, underwrote enormous efforts to improve schooling for blacks in the South, and launched a one-man crusade against endowments. On the last issue he had little success, but his personal giving remains a towering achievement in American philanthropy.


John Templeton Foundation

An Interview with Dr. Jack Templeton

The son of investment pioneer and curious philanthropist Sir John Templeton discusses the process used to ensure Sir John's intent is carried out, including periodic outside audits of the foundation's grantmaking.