Money To Live

October 9, 2008

Donor intent

Filed under: philanthropy — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

A big issue that fundraisers have to think about is donor intent — what strings are attached to a donation?

A fundraiser for an opera house in a large city told me that donor intent is a huge problem. Everyone wants to fund the summer opera series, but no one wants to pay the electricity bill (or her salary).

Sometimes, the issue of donor intent arises long after the donation has been made. Princeton University has been sued by descendants of a donor who gave $35 million dollars in 1961, claiming that their parents’ wishes have not been carried out. While the gift was intended to train students to enter public service,  many graduates opt instead for more lucrative careers.

I think about donor intent when making a donation.

There are two small organizations that I support with “no strings attached” because I personally know the people managing the finances, and I trust them. If money is needed to pay the electricity bill, then I am happy supporting in that way.

In the past, I have donated to Oprah’s Angel Network. Oprah takes care of the we-have-to-pay-the-electricity-bill problem by covering all administrative costs of running her charity.

In the future, I plan to give to Princeton University “with strings attached.” I  do not want to fund yet another party for the undergrads. I will give to two programs that I got value out of: graduate student travel funds and the new graduate student leadership program. The travel funds sent me to a conference in Banff. The leadership program started my last year in school, and was the only formal avenue for talking about leaving academia.

I am curious to hear from you — how does donor intent influence your giving?


1 Comment »

  1. I do think of donor intent and would actually choose to pay the electricity bill of an organization I support simply because it is often neglected by donors. On a private tour of the restoration labs in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, the scientist told us that there isn’t much funding for the upkeep of the lab and for storage, so valuable artifacts are not always properly cared for. He said everyone wants to fund a gallery with their name on it, but no one wants to fund a closet. I would even go so far as to specify that my donation should go towards some less glamorous necessity so that it wouldn’t go to something like another undergrad party.

    Comment by Shannon — October 9, 2008 @ 10:02 am |Reply

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