While working on a proposal for a significant merit-based endowment, a co-worker made an insightful comment. He said donors who set up endowments picture themselves as the individual receiving it. We can’t quite make this a rule of thumb, but it does give us a glimpse into the mind of the donor. If you’re creating a merit-based endowment, think about the specific values that made your donor successful. What path did he take to success? What obstacles did she have to overcome? Did he have a unique set of skills, training, or talents that made him successful?
Building a merit-based endowment allows donors an opportunity to highlight a trait in another person or program that they value a great deal. Maybe that trait is hard work, and they want to create a scholarship for students who are doing a double major. Maybe the trait is excellence, and they want to create a scholarship for 4.0 GPA students. This kind of endowment allows a donor to carry on a legacy that was started at the organization, in the community, or in connection with a special issue. If they have given to your organization for a long time what is it that they believe in the very most or have encouraged you to change the very most? If they are community-driven, think about their reputation and what they have done to sustain or encourage that reputation.
This is an interesting exercise to think about when building a merit-based endowment. When an endowment fits with donors’ personal core values and supports what they believe in, it can strengthen their interest and generosity in giving.