Philanthropy Roundtable’s Joanne Florino Featured in Planned Giving Today’s Protecting Donor Intent: Part II

Philanthropy Roundtable’s Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence Joanne Florino wrote a feature in the October issue of Planned Giving Today. In the second of a two-part series, Florino discussed the complexities of preserving donor intent and explained why education is crucial in making sure a donor’s wishes are respected and honored. She also highlighted promising policy news that will help safeguard donor intent. For more on this topic, check out these Philanthropy Roundtable resources for donors: “Protecting Your Legacy: A Wise Donor’s Guide to Honoring and Preserving Donor Intent” and Donor Intent Hub.

Below are excerpts from Florino’s “Protecting Donor Intent: Part II,” published in Planned Giving Today:

“Restricted gifts of all sizes, even those intended for current use, can easily contribute to conflict of course. No matter the size of the gift or the nature of the recipient, a successful gift negotiation that honors both the donor’s vision and the recipient’s reality demands serious and sincere effort from the two parties. As we remind donors in our guidebook, ‘It’s far easier to create a good working relationship with an organization before making a gift than to try, after the fact, to force them to comply with your wishes.’ But gifts intended for the long term, even with mutual understanding and the best relationships, will likely fail the test of time, especially as parties to the original agreement move on to new positions or pass away. If a donor’s intent is not embedded deeply in the recipient’s mission, that donor’s dream of perpetuity is unlikely to be realized.

The reality is that protecting, preserving, even stewarding donor intent is hard work in the short term and close to impossible over the longer term. We can—and must—educate donors to give wisely and with an eye to what the future may bring. … Even with all precautions in place, however, the odds of protecting donor intent are best when donors give during their lifetimes. The practice of ‘giving while living’ has become increasingly popular over the past 20 years among donors who, like Chuck Feeney, want to ‘kick the tires’ themselves, those who want to see the impact of their generosity with their own eyes, those who believes that dollars spent today will keep society’s problems from worsening in the future, and yes, those who are dismayed by the thought of designated gifts going astray. Quoting again from our guidebook, ‘A diligent and observant living donor focused on effective giving in the here and now is far more likely to ensure that funds are used for appropriate purposes than a donor who bets on a foundation [or endowment] left behind after his or her death.’

And despite the caustic language so frequently used by critics of private philanthropy to describe charitable donors, there are promising signs for the stewards of donor intent. One such sign is the result of a donor intent dispute at Ohio State University regarding an endowment created in 2001 by an alumnus of both the undergraduate and law programs at OSU, Michael Moritz. … The dispute has captured the attention of Ohio state legislators and a bill to protect donor intent at the state’s public institutions of higher education has already passed the Ohio Senate by a bipartisan vote of 31-2. … Even more encouraging is the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in the case Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta. … No doubt there will be continued interpretation of the SCOTUS ruling in lower courts and possibly a challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s Schedule B filing requirements. But AFPF v. Bonta has provided another safeguard for donor intent for all donors and particularly for those who are addressing controversial issues or funding unpopular organizations.

Some who are quick to criticize private giving and donor intent may view funds set aside for charity as ‘public money’ because of the tax exemptions and deductions. They may focus their intention on power dynamics, recommending government-imposed mandates to compel donors to give more, to give quickly, and to give to specific causes. Those who work most closely with donors understand that the dynamics are, in fact, those of voluntary generosity. Keeping the trust of donors is essential, former Philanthropy Roundtable President Adam Meyerson noted in 2020, “for continued charitable giving and for preventing giving from becoming homogenized and manipulated.’ Rather than being anti-democratic, donor intent, and the vibrant diversity of individual choices it represents, is the very core of the pluralism that defines us.”

Please continue reading “Protecting Donor Intent: Part II” at Planned Giving Today (subscription required).