Endowments have played a crucial role in supporting non-profit organisations worldwide, providing a long-term and stable source of funding to enable these organisations to pursue their missions and serve their communities. These financial resources are created through donations from individuals, families, institutions, and corporations and are invested to generate returns to fund the organisation’s activities in perpetuity. Thanks to endowments, numerous non-profit groups have positively impacted their communities by supporting everything from the arts and the environment to healthcare and education. 

What is an endowment? 

An endowment is money or other assets donated to a non-profit organisation, typically to provide ongoing financial support. The funds are invested, and the returns generated are used to fund the organisation’s activities or programs in perpetuity. Individuals or institutions often establish endowments to support causes they care about, such as education, healthcare, or the arts. They are intended to provide long-term financial stability to the organisation, ensuring that it can continue to operate and fulfil its mission for generations to come. Endowments are typically governed by a board of trustees or directors, who manage the funds and ensure that the donor’s wishes are fulfilled. 

Understanding endowments 

Endowments can offer an organisation long-term financial stability, enabling it to achieve its goal for several generations. An endowment can be worth thousands or billions of dollars, depending on size. An endowment’s investment plan is often created to strike a compromise between the demands for stability and growth to produce a steady source of income over time.  

 Endowments are managed and utilised according to the donor’s wishes by a board of trustees or directors. The board frequently creates rules for reporting, donor restrictions, governance, and investment, among other things. The board’s guiding principles are the organisation’s strategic and objective aims and legal and regulatory requirements. 

Types of endowments 

The following are the types of endowments: 

  • Restricted endowments 

These funds are donated with specific restrictions on how they can be used. Restricted endowments are often used to support specific projects or initiatives that align with the donor’s values or interests. 

  • Unrestricted endowments 

These funds are donated without specific restrictions on how they can be used. The organisation can use the funds as they see fit. Unrestricted endowments allow organisations greater flexibility in allocating their resources, allowing them to respond to changing needs and priorities. 

  • Term endowments 

These are funds that are donated for a specific period. Once the term ends, the funds are returned to the donor or added to the organisation’s general endowment. Term endowments are often used to support short-term projects or initiatives with a specific timeline. 

  • Quasi endowments 

Although they are not gifted, these funds are handled like endowments. They consist of cash set aside for a certain objective but are not constrained like actual endowments. Quasi-endowments are frequently used as a source of money for unforeseen expenses or to support continuing activities. 

Policies of endowments 

The policies of an endowment depend on the specific goals and objectives of the donor and the organisation that manages the endowment. Some common policies of endowments include: 

  • Investment policy 

This outlines how the endowment funds are invested and managed. The policy typically includes asset allocation, risk management, and performance evaluation guidelines. 

  • Spending policy 

This outlines how much of the endowment’s income can be spent each year to support the organisation’s activities. The spending policy is usually designed to balance the need to provide ongoing support with preserving the endowment’s purchasing power over time. 

  • Governance policy 

This describes the duties and functions of the directors or trustees who manage the endowment. Term limitations, conflict of interest policies, and board composition criteria are frequently included in the policy. 

  • Donor restrictions policy 

This outlines any restrictions or conditions that donors have placed on their gifts. For example, a donor may require their gift to support a specific program or project within the organisation. 

  • Reporting policy 

This outlines the organisation’s reporting requirements to donors and other stakeholders. The policy typically includes guidelines for financial reporting, investment performance reporting, and other types of communication with stakeholders. 

Requirements for endowments 

The endowment requirements can vary depending on the organisation or institution receiving the funds. Some general requirements are typically associated with endowments, including: 

  • For an endowment to be established, many institutions have minimum donation requirements. 
  • Donors typically need to specify the endowment’s purpose, such as supporting a specific program or initiative. 
  • Endowments are typically invested to generate ongoing income for the organisation. Donors may need to specify their investment preferences or allow the organisation to determine the investment strategy. 
  • Donors may be able to name the endowment after themselves or someone else. 
  • Donors must typically sign legal documentation to establish an endowment, including a gift agreement and any necessary tax forms. 

Frequently Asked Questions

A non-profit organisation needs continued financial backing to carry out its objective for future generations, which is what an endowment is for. Endowments can be a reliable source of money and are frequently created to assist causes donors are passionate about, like education, healthcare, or the arts. 

An example of an endowment is The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to improve global health and alleviate extreme poverty.  With a more than US$50 billion  endowment, the foundation can fund its initiatives and programmes with the income it generates. 

The benefits of an endowment include providing a long-term, stable source of funding for a non-profit organisation. This can help the organisation pursue its mission and serve its constituents for generations. Endowments also offer donors a way to support causes they care about in a lasting way, with the assurance that their gift will have an impact for years to come. Additionally, endowments can provide financial security for non-profit organisations, which can help them weather economic downturns and other challenges. 

An individual might purchase an endowment to give to charity over the long run and benefit from a tax break. 

One disadvantage of endowments is that they can create a sense of complacency and reduce the need for an organisation to seek out new funding sources actively. Additionally, endowments can restrict the use of funds, limiting an organisation’s flexibility and ability to respond to changing needs and priorities. 


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