Communicating Your Vision
August 16, 2021 | Emily Burden Rees
Good communication is key to a rewarding giving experience. The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving explains that “donors and universities both benefit from clearly establishing donor intent in the gift agreement because it helps preclude potential misunderstandings about the purpose of the gift.” Ensuring that the college or university understands your purpose for giving lays the groundwork for a true partnership. As a donor, you should communicate your vision at the beginning of the giving process in two critical ways: in-person and in writing.
1. Communicate your vision in-person
If possible, meet with university officials on campus. Connect with development officers, deans, board members, presidents, faculty, and staff in your giving area and share your vision with them over multiple visits. Conversations with these key university representatives can help to hone your goals and will reveal any roadblocks early in the process. Rather than being a nuisance, frequent communication can help representatives recall your vision when carrying out the logistics of your gift.
University officials commonly ask about a donor’s motivation for giving. You may describe your motivation as a desire to create a legacy, honor a parent, or pay forward past generosity. But ultimately, it is essential to articulate the issue your gift addresses and the specific details about how it will make a positive, lasting impact.
For example, perhaps you want to address a lack of intellectual diversity. Through conversations with faculty and administrators who share your concern, you can decide what kind of gift will best address that problem on a particular campus. Your gift could create a student debate program that encourages civil discourse.
Of course, these conversations are best supported by a strong gift agreement in writing.
2. Communicate your vision in writing
Donors should include a vision statement, also called a statement of purpose, in their gift agreement.
Joanne Florino, vice president of philanthropic services at the Philanthropy Roundtable, explains in her philanthropic guidebook Protecting Your Legacy, “think about your vision from the perspective of those who don’t know you. Would they comprehend your meaning?” Your vision statement should spell out your personal values and your goals for the gift.
Talk with trusted advisors who know you to help specify that vision. Avoid vague buzzwords, and give yourself time to hone the wording. If your gift seeks to advance liberty on campus, do you want to use the word “freedom” or “liberty”? If your gift focuses on promoting democratic institutions, should you say “autonomy” or “sovereignty”? Trusted advisors can help you effectively convey the true intent of your gift.
Ms. Florino explains that a vision statement of “‘helping the needy’ opens the door to any number of grants with which you might disagree. ‘Enabling the poor to support themselves with dignity through workforce training and character development’ identifies both end and means.”
Specificity is a crucial guardrail. Business leader Angelo Pizzagalli sought to endow a professorship in free enterprise at his alma mater, the University of Vermont. Mr. Pizzagalli included a statement of purpose in his gift agreement outlining his intentions, including a brief, clear list of fundamental concepts that the professor should cover in his or her teaching. The specificity of Mr. Pizzagalli’s agreement ensured that the university understood and respected his intent while also being able to exercise its right to academic freedom. You can read more about his gift in The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving.
Although there is no “silver bullet” for protecting your intent, a strong and specific vision, communicated clearly and codified in writing, helps significantly to secure your gift.