Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

March 14, 2007

Philanthropy is a two-way street

Whoever “wins” the court fight between Princeton and the children of major donors who claim the school misspent their parents’ endowment gift, the dispute underscores the fact that any gift creates ethical responsibilities on the part of donor and recipient alike.

As The Wall Street Journal reported March 13, while it says the spending was proper, Princeton now has reimbursed $782,375 to the Robertson family because of “inadequate disclosure” of its spending.

The lawsuit by the Robertson children, heirs to the A&P supermarket fortune, claims Princeton spent $207 million outside guidelines the gift established.

The school denies the claim and, as the Journal reported, the reimbursement does not end the fight, which the newspaper says “may be the most important case in higher education over the question of honoring the wishes of the donor.”

Whether large or small, a charitable gift is built on mutual trust between donor and recipient, and creates ethical responsibilities that do not end with the transfer of assets.

The recipient can and should keep the donor informed and involved, reporting back on how the gift is being used and the impact it is having.

And the donor can and should keep in touch with the recipient, asking for information and looking for appropriate opportunities to continue to provide input and support.

While it can be sensitive and tricky to maintain, the continuing relationship between donor and recipient is critical in the charitable marketplace.

Keeping the donor involved can create a lifelong friend and supporter for a charity, while staying involved with a charity can lead to a fulfilling role in helping to shape solutions to a cause the donor cares about.


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