While examples of donors successfully protecting donor intent across multiple generations are rare, there are some success models. For example, heirs involved with the Hilton and JM foundations, respectively, have honored the original donors’ wishes over many decades. One factor appears to be especially powerful in achieving comity across generations: shared religious faith.
The Utah-based GFC Foundation (an acronym for God, Family, and Country) has transmitted its donor intent across three generations with a common denominator of faith as a key ingredient—in this case, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although it was several decades before the family created an official mission statement for the foundation, core values were nonetheless passed from one generation to the next.
Dudley Swim, a successful investment manager during the Great Depression, first launched the foundation in 1941. He passed away in 1972, but his son and daughter-in-law, Gaylord and Laurie Swim, took up the mantle of the family’s philanthropy. In 1994, Gaylord established the current version of the foundation.
Beyond making grants to numerous charities, the GFC Foundation has chartered a public-policy organization, the Sutherland Institute, and a local faith-based private school, American Heritage. The foundation now focuses on freedom, cultural renewal, K-12 education, higher education, and poverty relief.
Following Gaylord Swim’s death in 2005, his son, Stan Swim, served as the third-generation president of the foundation until July 2018. He credits his close-knit family for transmitting core values.
“The way we were brought up is one of the most important preservatives of donor intent,” he says. “If we have succeeded in perpetuating Dudley’s values into the third generation, it is not because of anything written into our organizing documents or bylaws, which are boilerplate. Our determination to stay consistent comes from parental teaching, which for each generation has started in childhood. Family experiences, conversations, and educational choices have all played a role. Today we have spirited arguments over practical means but remain unified on principle.”
Swim adds that the inculcation of gratitude and a sense of responsibility for good stewardship is fundamental to keep the foundation “still reflecting my grandparents’ and parents’ priorities. And I think gratitude will do more to keep you on track than documents or papers. Gratitude is what makes those documents come to life.” For nearly 80 years the family’s shared faith and values across generations have served as a strong defense against the threat of straying from donor intent.