The MIT Free Speech Alliance's Concerned Donors Fund exists as an alternative vehicle for donors who want to ensure that their charitable support goes directly to support programming promoting free expression at MIT. The fund is a donor-advised fund managed by DonorsTrust investment corporation, and donations to the fund are fully tax-deductible. Disbursements from the fund will be used to finance grants to support programs, projects, and personnel that advance the values of free expression, viewpoint diversity, academic freedom, and/or open scientific inquiry in the MIT community. These funds will not pass through or be administered by MIT, subjecting them to overhead or redirection, but will go directly to programs that apply for and receive grants from the MIT Concerned Donors Fund.
The Concerned Donors Fund is currently accepting applications, and hopes to award its first grants during the 2023-24 academic year.
A fuller explanation of the Concerned Donor Fund is provided below.
A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a fund set up by individuals through a public charity for the purpose of directing grants to eligible nonprofit organizations. DAFs are a popular vehicle for charitable giving, as they allow donors to fully realize the tax benefits of their giving upfront, while allowing them the flexibility to direct gifts to favored charities at their discretion, even if over multiple tax years. Many financial institutions have charitable arms that allow for the endowment of DAFs. For further reading about DAFs, we suggest these primers from Fidelity Charitable, Investopedia, and NerdWallet.
The Concerned Donors Fund is a pooled DAF account. It offers an alternative for prospective donors who would like their charitable giving to go directly to supporting programming promoting free expression at MIT, but may be concerned that gifts made directly to the university might not fulfill their original intent or that their effectiveness could be watered down by spending on overhead and administration. The Fund is managed by DonorsTrust, a liberty-oriented charitable gift fiduciary committed to preserving donor intent.
Donors to the Concerned Donors Fund are third-party donors and do not have to set up individual accounts with DonorsTrust. As with all donor-advised funds, gifts of cash or appreciated stock deposited in the fund are immediately tax deductible, even if they are not disbursed in the same tax year. Grants can then be made from the fund at any future time through recommendations from MFSA, which serves as the fund's advisor. Neither DonorsTrust nor MFSA will use or share your information without your express permission.
Two things make the MIT Concerned Donors Fund different from individual donor-advised funds that you might have already set up at fiduciaries like Fidelity or Schwab. First, this is a pooled fund, aggregating the gifts of multiple third-party donors. This creates the potential to make larger grants that can have more of an impact on MIT. Second, the MFSA Board of Directors serves as the fund advisor, not the individual donors.
The MFSA board of directors, through MFSA’s grant committee, will solicit, review, and approve grant proposals from MIT-related organizations, recommending grants as resources become available. The committee will consider grant proposals meeting two criteria:
1) They must advance the causes of free speech & expression, viewpoint diversity, or academic freedom & open scientific inquiry to the satisfaction of the MFSA board of directors and
2) The legal entity to or through which funds are disbursed must be a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. MFSA, as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, will serve in this role for the Concerned Donors Fund.
Examples of programs, projects, and personnel to which the MFSA fund might make grants include a faculty free speech organization, a student free speech organization, a campus speaker series, third-party educational programs devoted to teaching the importance of viewpoint diversity, and debate events on controversial issues. In the fullness of time, should the pool grow sufficiently large and a dedicated MFSA lobbying effort prove successful, it might be possible to endow an administrative position for a Dean of Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom.
Gifts that donors deposit in the MFSA Fund cannot be earmarked for specific grants. However, submitted proposals can be provisionally approved by the grant committee before money necessary to fund those grants has been deposited. Once funds arrive from an engaged donor, they can be promptly recommended for distribution to a pre-approved grantee.
While MFSA hopes to administer its first grants through the Concerned Donors Fund in the 2023-24 academic year, we can offer an example of the kind of program it might fund. Two professors in MIT's department of Linguistics and Philosophy taught a course in the Fall 2022 semester on the philosophy of free expression. Financial support from MFSA allowed the professors to bring in visiting speakers to discuss their works in person, such as Nadine Strossen, past President of the ACLU. MFSA directly donated $3,000 to help fund that course. If it had been a Concerned Donor Fund grant, the faculty member teaching it would have submitted a short proposal, the Grant Committee would have reviewed it, if approved it would have gone to the MFSA Board, and the Board would have authorized DonorsTrust to disburse the funds.
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