Public Policy

Resources for understanding the role of donor intent in free society

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

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.


"Examining the Role of Foundations in a Free Society" by Carl Schramm

A foundation head argues that fidelity to donor intent helps society by helping foundations be less politicized and more genuinely relevant to changing social conditions.


"You Can't Take It With You" by Charles E. Rounds Jr.

In this review of Ray D. Madoff’s, Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the Dead, an expert on trusts rebuts a prominent argument that America should outlaw perpetual foundations—even though he advises donors that it’s usually unwise to establish a perpetual foundation.


The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of "Donor Intent" by Martin Morse Wooster

Chapter four in this landmark book provides “A Legal History of Donor Intent,” beginning with medieval disputes over church property and ending with suggestions for donors drawn from modern case law.


"Charity Begins at Home, but Must It Stay There?" by John J. Miller

A cautionary tale of a state attorney general trying to bully a local foundation. Even though his intended victim was the Ford Foundation, which is no pillar of donor intent, the attorney general endangered the rights of donors everywhere.


"The Case for Limiting the Lives of Foundations" by Heather R. Higgins

A foundation president argues that donors should not be allowed to create perpetual foundations, precisely because of the risk that donor intent will inevitably be ignored. In the same booklet, another foundation head responds with "The Case for Perpetuity."


"The Unraveling of Donor Intent: Lawsuits and Lessons" by Kathryn Miree and Winton Smith

This detailed look at major lawsuits involving donor intent sketches the legal landscape that donors and grantees face, especially when efforts are made to change bequests.


"Academic Questions: Can Harvard Solve the Problem of Donor Intent?" by Rita Hauser

One of the founding donors of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard explains how donor intent "fuels" the nonprofit sector and warns that professional managers can wreak havoc with a donor's intent.


"Escaping the Perpetuity Mindset Trap" by Arthur Schmidt

An impassioned argument by the founder of Guidestar that “any nominal appreciation in the value of a perpetual endowment should be discounted” by the social cost incurred by having less relief of today’s “human suffering, environmental degradation, and other problems left unresolved.”