A number of high-profile legal cases in recent years have highlighted the tensions surrounding donor intent. What did the donor want? How are those wishes being carried out today? How are donors’ intentions for a grant, for a foundation, and for a family to be interpreted over time? How specific or flexible should donors be in light of their own values and intentions and the needs of grantees? These are not easy questions to answer.
Donor intent—as codified in trust documents, articles of incorporation, and grant agreements—is and should be respected. But as giving families grapple with a donor’s ultimate goals for a particular gift or vehicle amid changing times and needs, many have embraced the more expansive concept of legacy. Ethical wills, values statements, and legacy statements have joined bylaws and mission statements as important documents of a family’s philanthropic activities and hopes. It’s an approach that respects donors’ wishes while allowing new generations to write a new chapter in a growing family legacy.