Keeping the Intent Alive

Can DonorsTrust be expected to maintain the same diligence, the same integrity, and the same focus on donor intent after losing its co-founder and president, Whitney Ball?

I first saw a version of this question posed in response to the Wall Street Journal‘s online article about Whitney’s death.  My initial response, along with many people I knew, was to be upset someone would ask such a question.  Is this someone trying to stir the pot?  Someone with no manners?

The timing may have been questionable, but that doesn’t make it any less fair of a question.  And the answer, of course, is yes.  DonorsTrust absolutely can be expected to continue its work to advance its mission of preserving donor intent and helping liberty-minded donors promote the principles of freedom through charitable giving.

Whitney and I shared a distaste for trite clichés.  Yet there is no way around it – Whitney’s spirit really does live on in DonorsTrust.  Every day, she brought to her work a passion for the liberty movement, a commitment to protecting conservative and libertarian donors from having their philanthropic dollars drift to causes they would never support, and a drive to run an operation of impeccable fiduciary integrity.  The organization she built up over nearly 16 years embodies those objectives.

She was not, however, a one-woman show.  To be sure, she was the “sparkplug,” as one memorial article appropriately called her.  However, she knew that she was building an organization not to help herself but to help a movement.  She was an evangelist for donor intent and principled giving – and she converted a lot of people to her vision along the way.

In the years after Whitney and I co-founded DonorsTrust, she worked tirelessly day in and day out – through two battles with cancer – to see it succeed.  In the process, she built a stable, strong, and effective organization while putting in place the pillars needed to support DonorsTrust’s continued growth.

That growth will only come if DonorsTrust stays true to its principles.  Just as DonorsTrust protects the charitable intention of its donor clients, the organization also must heed the intention laid out by its founders.  I can point to three reasons why I am confident the organization will not stray in Whitney’s absence.

  1. The Boards and Staff. DonorsTrust has a terrific board of directors – a mix of libertarians and conservatives, business and foundation leaders, all rooted in the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.  The bona fides of this group – which you can read about here – are unimpeachable.  We are all committed to the vision and principles of DonorsTrust.  I co-founded the organization with Whitney and remain its chairman.  We are also fortunate to have the added experience of the Donors Capital Fund board, a separate and independent board but one that nonetheless offers invaluable advice and guidance for both organizations.  The Donors Capital Fund board is comprised of top leaders from a subset of the public policy groups that receive support from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund clients.  This board brings the perspective of those doing the hard work of advancing liberty and will serve as a valuable check against any hint of drift in our mission.  Finally, the staff at DonorsTrust has long worked with Whitney and shares her commitment to maintaining an organization of the highest integrity that demonstrates unwavering dedication to its principles.
  1. The Grantees. Just as the Donors Capital Fund board, with its representatives from across the liberty movement, can be expected to keep the organization on track, so can the hundreds of organizations that receive support from DonorsTrust.  Whitney helped create an important role for DonorsTrust in the liberty movement, positioning DonorsTrust not simply as an institution that gives money, but also as a partner in advancing a shared vision.  Over the years, many DonorsTrust clients have come as referrals from nonprofit partners who knew that DonorsTrust’s simplicity, privacy, and tax efficiently could be of particular use to a donor.  Should DonorsTrust ever slip from its commitment to liberty or falter on its protection of donor intent, the nonprofit community will send its donors elsewhere.
  1. The Donor Community. At its heart, DonorsTrust is a service provider.  We offer our clients a means to more easily manage their philanthropic giving.  And we provide the added benefit of attaching principled guardrails to their giving.  Grants cannot be made to groups that advocate growth in the size and scope of government, nor to groups that receive a significant portion of their funding from government sources.  Were these guardrails ever to erode, the marketplace would offer alternatives. Simply put, DonorsTrust is accountable to its clients, who can take their money elsewhere at a moment’s notice.

DonorsTrust is committed to supporting the causes and public policies that preserve limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise, and to serving donors who share a dedication to promoting a free society as instituted in America’s founding documents.  This is what Whitney and I envisioned when we established DonorsTrust.  It is the vision she turned into reality over sixteen years at the helm.  And it is the vision that will continue even as new leadership steps in to steer the ship.

We named it DonorsTrust for a reason.


  • Kimberly Dennis

    Ms. Dennis is President and CEO of the Searle Freedom Trust, a private grant making foundation supporting research and education on public policies that promote individual freedom and personal responsibility. She serves as the Board of Directors Chair for DonorsTrust.

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