PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In February 2019, in the context of a growing national conversation about philanthropy and its intersections with the missions of educational and other nonprofit institutions, the Corporation of Brown University discussed in detail Brown’s philosophy and principles for accepting gifts.
On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Corporation approved an updated version of the University’s gift acceptance policy informed by last February’s discussions. To make clear to the full Brown community how the policy ensures that gifts advance Brown’s mission and support University values, Brown has published the Gift Acceptance Policy — along with a second policy on naming Brown buildings, spaces, programs and positions — on its website.
Brown President Christina H. Paxson said members of the Corporation, who were granted by Brown’s 1764 charter the authority to accept gifts on behalf of the University, carry out their fiduciary responsibility to Brown and their obligation to uphold University values with the utmost integrity. Yet with questions about the intersection of ethics, wealth and philanthropy sparking debate on college and university campuses across the country, making the principles that guide gift acceptance at Brown available and accessible to the campus and external community is important, Paxson said.
“Brown’s generous donors play an instrumental role in advancing our mission of education, research and scholarship in service to society,” Paxson said. “Leaders at Brown have long worked to ensure the alignment of gifts with University values, but conversations on our campus and nationally have made clear the need to share more fully the principles and practices that guide decision-making when Brown is engaged in discussions with prospective donors about gifts.”
The policy affirms the long-held standard that the Corporation accepts gifts valued at $1 million or more, delegating acceptance of smaller gifts to the president and/or senior officers of the institution. The policy outlines that gifts are accepted when they are found to contribute to the approved purposes of the University, in accordance with a detailed set of principles. Gifts will not be accepted, for example, if they are too restrictive in purpose or are not aligned with Brown’s mission of education, research and scholarship.
“Brown University strives to ensure that gifts are in amounts appropriate to carry out their specified use; that donor requirements and restrictions are acceptable to the University; that gifts are accepted and administered in a manner appropriate for a tax-exempt institution; and that the gifts enhance the reputation and standing of the University and do not compromise its mission,” the policy states. “The purpose of this policy is to define the principles by which gifts will be accepted, repurposed, returned or redirected.”
The policy affirms the enduring principle that acceptance of a gift does not imply endorsement of donor views, businesses or activities, and it also re-articulates standards against accepting gifts if the funds or property were not acquired legally, or if the intended purpose or association with the donor could inflict damage on the University’s standing or integrity, or runs counter to University values. While donors may request anonymity in making gifts, the policy conveys that Brown will not accept gifts anonymously for the purpose of protecting the University’s reputation or disguising a gift. The policy also outlines principles to guide repurposing, returning or redirecting gifts.
“The Corporation diligently exercises judgment in these decisions, and the policy outlines the principles upon which that judgment is based,” Paxson said, adding that the policies were informed by feedback and input from student and faculty leaders.
The Corporation’s approval of the updated policy came at its fall meeting, held on the Brown campus from Oct. 24 to 26. The second policy approved by the Corporation formalizes long-standing practices on how Brown manages and approves proposals for naming buildings, spaces, programs and positions in honor of donors, individuals, organizations or entities. It also outlines principles to guide decision-making in the extraordinary circumstance of considering whether to rename or remove a name that had been previously approved. The policy asserts that the “determination will be guided by Brown’s mission of education, research and scholarship.”
“Naming is one of the ways in which the University acknowledges the generosity of donors and honors those whose service to or affiliation with Brown enhances the University,” the policy states. “It is the responsibility of the President and the Corporation of Brown University to nurture, preserve, and protect that legacy.”
The policies are now included on the Corporation website, which continues to share information about the Corporation’s charter, structure, responsibilities and membership.