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The Challenges of Foundation Stewardship: When a Philanthropic Gift Becomes a Burden
Journal of Applied Case Research
  • Ruth Sessler Bernstein, University of Washington Tacoma
  • Fabio Ambrosio
  • Lise Anne Slatten
Publication Date
Document Type
The Challenges of Foundation Stewardship is a decision-based case. The name of the foundation has been disguised. The case examines a private foundation established with the ideal that giving is ‘fun.' However, with a divided board of directors composed of members from two splenetic families, there were many disagreements and the ‘fun' was long gone. The case delves into the challenges of governing a private foundation without a mission statement, a grant (spending) policy, or clear donor guidance. In the case study, the lack of clear operational guidance enabled individual board members, without any discussion or approval at the board level, to award grants. The board members, despite an attempt to keep the foundation operational, resolved to dissolve the foundation because it was no longer feasible to govern with a divided board. However, dissolving the foundation proved to be complex, time-consuming, and costly in part due to associated legal and tax issues. The case illustrates the importance of donor intent, mission statements, giving policies, and shared versus individual board member roles and responsibilities. Students will be presented with an overview of the legal and tax ramifications of each dissolution option. At the conclusion of the case, the students will decide which option is best for the foundation and will justify their decision. This case illustrates what constitutes good governance in nonprofit organizations by stressing the importance of a clear mission and spending policy. The students will learn how to avoid the pitfalls that led to The Gift Fund's dissolution.
open access
Citation Information
Ruth Sessler Bernstein, Fabio Ambrosio and Lise Anne Slatten. "The Challenges of Foundation Stewardship: When a Philanthropic Gift Becomes a Burden" Journal of Applied Case Research Vol. 13 Iss. 1 (2015) p. 32 - 52
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