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Giving in Time: Perpetuities, Limited Life, and the Responsibility of Philanthropy to the Present and the Future

The purpose of this conference is to develop scholarship that will benefit the public discourse surrounding the issues of philanthropy and time. Questions regarding the lifespan of foundations and the relative moral demands of the present and future on our philanthropic resources is an increasingly salient one, but one that has been under-theorized and has not received the type of sustained, scholarly focus that it deserves. This conference will have both public and private dimensions. We will begin with a public program that will address the relative merits of the limited life and perpetual life foundations. We will then have a private 2-day conference of practitioners and academics to address a range of questions on this topic, including:

What are the legal and moral bases for the case for perpetual life? To what extent do different charitable entities (such as private foundations, donor advised funds and university endowments) raise different issues? Has current law drawn the right distinctions? What is the history of the philanthropic sector attitudes toward perpetuity and limited life? When did perpetuity become ensconced as the "default" setting for many in the field? Have the arguments made to justify one timeframe over the other changed significantly? What role has public policy played, and should it play, in encouraging perpetual life or limited life for foundations? Would a shift toward limited life philanthropy require any changes in the legal frameworks supporting and regulating the philanthropic sector? What might the consequences be for the nonprofit sector and for the polity more generally if more foundations adopt a limited life model? What does it mean for a charitable entity to exist in perpetuity? What types of spending can be done within the perpetuity model? How should we think about the relationship between the way that wealth is accumulated and the timeframe in which part of it is deployed for philanthropic use? Informed by the discussion in the April meeting, a smaller group of scholars will meet in October 2016 as a group with the goal of producing a book that develops the scholarship on the issue of Philanthropy and Time.

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