Testing the limits of charity

Jeremy Hobson Oct 26, 2007


Scott Jagow: If you donated $35 million to your alma mater in 1961, and you don’t like how it’s being spent in 2007, you think you can get your money back?

I guess we’ll find out. Princeton University will have to go to court against the heirs of the A&P supermarket fortune. Their parents gave the money back in ’61, and the gift is now worth $880 million. Jeremy Hobson has more.

Jeremy Hobson: When Charles and Marie Robertson made the donation, they wanted the money to be used to train students for a life in public service. Their children say some of the money’s been spent on other things, and now they want it back.

Yesterday, a judge put the whole $880 million on the table. He said if there were nefarious and egregious circumstances, Princeton would have to give it all back.

Stacy Palmer: What this case could do is set some of the ground rules about what kinds of rights donors have.

That’s Stacy Palmer with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She says the case is being watched closely by those who give big money to nonprofits.

Palmer: Usually, the nonprofit institutions have control over it. So if donors get a little bit more of a right to challenge that, then that means nonprofit groups will have to work with donors a lot more closely.

And whoever wins in court may not want to tout this fact. The initial donation was $35 million. The legal fees so far: more than $40 million.

I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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