Endowment

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An endowment is a pool of money that is invested so that the income can be used to support the nonprofit. Often, donors restrict these funds so that the principal (the amount initially donated) cannot be used to cover day-to-day expenses.

Endowments are frequently raised through a separate fundraising effort.

There are different ways of determining the appropriate size of an endowment. One approach is to decide baseline level of annual income to fund operations (say $2 million) and then calculate how much endowment is necessary to generate this level of income. In this example, if we assume a 5% annual income rate, we'd need $40 million to generate $2 million a year.

Pros:

  • building a capital base and then living off the income can stabilize cash inflow and reduce risk of funding shortfalls
  • having a capital base can reassure donors about organization stability
  • provides donors alternative for a gift that provides ongoing funding instead of meeting a one-time need
  • we take advantage of capacity to raise more money

Cons:

  • could discourage future donations by suggesting we are already well capitalized
  • could discourage volunteer work by sending signal the organization is wealthy
  • some donors want to fund current needs, not a warchest
  • could make us a bigger target for litigation
  • with the financial market volatility over past year, endowments don't necessarily represent the image of stability they once did


Wikimedia Potential

In preparation for a Board meeting a few weeks ago I did some background research on endowments and put together some notes. See below. Stu 17:56, 7 December 2009 (UTC)

As a general observation, thanks to our 300+ million monthly audience, and high profile credibility, we clearly can raise more money. For example, we do only one community fundraiser a year, while public radio in the US which may do one in the Spring, one in the Fall, and occasionally do other targeted drives. At the moment, we don't necessarily need more money than our current plan as we have neither a focused strategy for spending more nor frankly the execution capability to spend it well. But I am optimistic that the strategy project will prioritize and drive agreement on some additional opportunities. And more importantly my cardinal rule is always "raise money when you can, not when you need to."

That said, we need to investigate many areas before we could make an informed decision on pursuing an endowment. Here are a few:

  1. Will it be a net positive for long-term financial sustainability? Healthy community giving has worked pretty well for us so far, and given the scope of our audience and its geographical distribution is well diversified so comparatively low risk. An endowment could be valuable supplement but assuming a conservative 5% annual income rate would have to be huge ($150 or $200 million) to completely cover our costs. So the two would have to co-exist.
  2. WIll it negatively affect volunteer motivation? Will a significant endowment, or campaign to raise one, create an impression of boundless resources and therefore less need for volunteer help?
  3. Will it negatively affect existing donors? We currently cover our needs between community giving, major gifts, and institutional grants. Would an additional endowment alternative affect this?
  4. What is right legal structure and resulting risk profile? How much would having deeper pockets affect litigation against us?

Key questions for a board resolution creating an endowment

  • What is the purpose of this endowment and how will it tie in with the mission?
  • Who will manage the endowment? Will we have an investment committee or will we hire an outside manager?
  • What is going to be our investment strategy? How can we ensure that the separate and detailed investment policies remain in accordance with this strategy?
  • What will our disbursement policy be? Will the board have the authority to transfer funds under special circumstances?

Other questions to answer:

  • what other like-minded organizations have an endowment?
  • how would we differentiate fundraising for operating needs v. endowment? Give all donors a choice? Focus the community campaign on operating needs while focusing major donors and institutional grants on endowment?
  • what is the impact on our legal risk by having an endowment? what legal structural steps could we take to protect it? should it be held by the WMF, or would it be more protected from litigation if in a separate entity? is the U.S. the right place for endowment to reside, or would another jurisdiction (e.g. Switzerland) be better?
  • would endowment significantly help our major gifts effort? e.g. is the endowment option something which could open new doors for us?
  • should we allow any kind of restrictions on endowment gifts? could become a significant administrative burden.