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College donors want wiser decisions

Amy Scott Dec 7, 2007


Lisa Napoli: Colleges and universities are having a harder time keeping their donors happy. Marketplace’s Amy Scott has this case study.

Amy Scott: Back in 1961, Charles and Marie Robertson gave Princeton University a pile of money to train students for government service. Now, the late couple’s children claim Princeton misspent the money. They’re suing for control of a nearly $900 million endowment.

Frederick Fransen heads the nonprofit Center for Excellence in Higher Education. He says together, both sides have spent more than $40 million duking it out.

Frederick Fransen: Those are $40 million that could have been much better spent on providing education, either the way that Princeton sees it or the way that the Robertson family sees it.

Fransen’s group hosts a conference today on the growing problem of donor discontent. He says schools should strictly define the terms of gifts. And donors would do well to make short-term bequests, in case a school’s circumstances change.

In another case, descendants of a Tulane University benefactor say the school broke the terms of a gift she made more than a century ago.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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