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Honoring Donor Intent Now and In the Future

By Jan McGuire


Honoring donor intent is a critical component of fundraising. It's vital when a donor establishes an endowment. Endowments exist in perpetuity, well beyond the donor’s lifespan and certainly beyond our tenure in Donor Relations.


So how can we be sure that we can – we are – and we will honor donor intent? It all starts with documentation. Gift agreement, letter of intent, memorandum of understanding – whatever you want to call it, there needs to be documentation that clearly outlines the donor's intention for their gift. (There should also be other components like contingency clauses and such, but that's a topic for another blog.)


Sharing and storing the documentation is also a must. Gift agreements need to be stored and clearly labeled in your CRM. They should be circulated or made accessible to the staff or department that will administer the fund, those that report on the fund, essentially anyone that needs to know the fund exists and the purpose for which it exists.


We all know that donors occasionally amend or revise their agreements. And when that happens, is the current version of the agreement readily available to all parties mentioned above? In your CRM, is it clear which version of an agreement is the current version?


Beyond storing the agreement in your CRM, what else are you capturing in your database? Most of us have a "fund purpose" or "fund description" field that provides an overview of the fund. You may have the full criteria for using the fund captured here or in another area in your CRM. When is the last time you reviewed those for accuracy? When agreements are revised, are you double-checking these fields for possible updates?


If you include the fund purpose in donor reports, you're likely keeping it up to date. But what about funds you don't report on? Perhaps the reporting status has become inactive, but we still should use the funds correctly. Have you invested the time to review those purposes and criteria against the donor documentation? You might be surprised what you’ll find.


Just as endowments benefit our organizations long after the donor's lifetime, our record keeping should help future employees. Compliance is becoming an increasingly important part of fund stewardship. But we can’t expect our organization to correctly use funds if we’re not doing our part to ensure that documentation is clearly identified, shared, and stored or that criteria are accurately captured and maintained.


Don’t have the bandwidth to do this type of internal review yourself? Let us help you! Here at the DRG Group, we LOVE a good fund audit! We dive deep into your documentation, record keeping, expendable account balances, and more. Contact us for more information on how we can help.