Many donors concerned with preserving their intent choose to give while living or sunset, but it is still possible to operate your foundation in perpetuity—with no end date in mind—and protect donor intent. Operating your foundation in perpetuity makes it easier to offer long-term support for clearly defined geographic regions, issues, or institutions. If you choose this pathway, here are wise steps to take:
• Create ironclad documentation: Incorporate carefully worded mission statements and other donor intent documents into your foundation’s articles of incorporation and bylaws and require a significant majority vote to alter those documents.
• Create a donor intent statement: If such documents are not available, follow the example of the Foellinger and Weinberg foundations and create a contemporary donor-intent statement based on personal knowledge of the donor and on letters, speeches, or other writings that provide insight into the donor’s values, principles, and key interests.
• Have trustees sign a donor intent pledge: Implement the requirement used at the Daniels Fund that trustees sign a statement acknowledging the donor’s intent and their commitment to honor it.
• Require periodic audits: Follow the Templeton Foundation practice of scheduling regular independent donor-intent audits of your grantmaking. Every five years, the foundation undergoes an external audit to measure how well it is adhering to its founder’s wishes. The board of trustees selects three organizations who work in focus areas identified by John Templeton. Each organization then chooses an individual from its ranks to be an auditor.
• Mandate outside help: Working with your attorney, give outside parties legal standing to act against your board if it strays from its mission. This could include, for example, a public charity with whom you work closely. The Roe Foundation took this approach. Its wealth creator, Thomas Roe, gave standing to two organizations to challenge his foundation in court if it runs contrary to his stated donor intent at any point in the future.
Five steps to safeguard your donor intent in perpetuity
Perpetuity at the Bradley Weinberg and Foellinger foundations