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Can Donors Be Confident in Their Legacy?

Posted by Scott Barron on Mar 4, 2014 2:10:37 PM
Scott Barron

Can your donors reliably expect the mission and purpose to which they give today to be the same into the future?

Good oft buried

Shared vision is the central point of effective fundraising and development. But what assurances does a donor have that the promises you're making today will be honored by the school's leadership long after you both are no longer involved and even no longer on this earth? This is especially important for major donors who are opting for naming opportunities for a campus, building, area, etc. Can you guarantee consistency of the mission 100 years from now?

Peter Greer and Chris Horst illustrate this point in their recent article, "What Happened to Harvard?" Whether you agree or disagree with Harvard's original purpose, the fact remains that this institution today is very different from what its founders intended. It's reasonable to conclude that at least some of the donors who gave to this university over the last few centuries as part of their legacy plan would be displeased that their investment and name is connected with the philosophy and worldview that has become dominate throughout the campus.

What values and rules can be implemented today to protect the legacy of the board and school?

Below are three areas that should be considered in order to protect the legacy of donors.

Corporate Policy

The corporate bylaws and governance policies of your organization are where the legacy begins. Your bylaws should provide reassurance to donors that the mission will be consistent for the long-term, as in multiple decades and even centuries. Likewise, the wise donors will want to spend more time assessing the corporate documents of the organizations to which they give.

Bylaws typically contain specific provisions detailing the purposes or mission of the organization, how trustees are elected and can take action, duties and responsibilities of each officer, and the authority of board and non-board committees. Trustees should not be able to make decisions that violate the mission. Consistency begins with selecting and evaluating trustees first and foremost based on their alignment with the mission. Financial policies must also be sound in order to avoid the compromises that are made when facing overwhelming debt and an unsustainable business model.

Gift Policy

Each donation to your school should be evaluated on its own merit because not all gifts should be accepted! Beware of the risk of receiving a gift that your school simply may not be able to use in a productive way, or worse that may require expenses to manage or dispose. Consider a written gift acceptance policy that can be used to manage expectations and provide direction.

Your development strategy must also recognize that 90% of the assets of major donors are not in cash, so you need creative ways to accept non-cash donations. Innovative gift options that provide mutual benefits for the donor and the school are a huge advantage!

Architecture PolicyCHA Elevation

Did you know that the architectural design of the buildings on your campus is a significant contributor to long-term success of your school? The design determines the amount of maintenance required from the annual and capital budgets, and it sets the tone for future investments. Donors want a campus of which they can be proud, and their legacy goals include having a place for their grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren to visit and remember the investment that was made there. That doesn't often happen with the metal buildings and industrial design that are too common on today's campuses.

Don't underestimate the power of legacy-enabling design!

Topics: Fundraising, Board Culture

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