Some Nonprofits Can't Touch Their Money
RALEIGH, N.C., March 2, 2009, The Associated Press — The North Carolina Symphony has all the money it needs. But in this economy, the orchestra isn't allowed to touch it.
The value of its endowment stands at nearly $6.9 million, a fund the symphony planned to tap this year to help pay its musicians and put on concerts. But because of the slump on Wall Street, the endowment is worth less than the original donations that created it. That means, under North Carolina law, that the money is off limits.
It's a frustrating quandary for universities, orchestras and other nonprofit organizations in two dozen states. They have the money they need to save jobs, offer scholarships and put on a solid schedule of programs, but face state laws that keep them from using any of it.
"I don't imagine the donors anticipated a situation where the market would fall so dramatically that the money would be held hostage and unable to support the symphony at all," said David Chambless Worters, the symphony's chief executive.
Rules governing how nonprofits in North Carolina and 23 other states use their endowments date to the 1970s, when most states adopted a uniform law that prohibits withdrawing money from endowments that fall below their "historic dollar value" , the money given to create the endowment, plus any later gifts.
The law is designed to protect endowments by preventing institutions from dipping into the principal. An endowment is supposed to be a perpetual source of revenue, with institutions drawing off only the earnings.
The rule affects newer funds most severely, since they have had less time to invest a gift and build the endowment's value.
Neither the National Council of Nonprofits nor the Council on Foundations, both based in Washington, keeps track of how many of its members are struggling with endowments that are now underwater.
- American Conservatory Theater
- Bolshoi Ballet
- Brandeis University
- Council on Foundations
- National Center on Philanthropy and the Law
- National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws
- National Council of Nonprofits
- New York University
- North Carolina Symphony
- Rose Art Museum
- The Associated Press
- University of North Carolina
- University of Wisconsin