Starting from scratch: Building of meaningful endowments by public charities

Todd L. Ely, Juniper Katz, Thad D. Calabrese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most nonprofits lack a true endowment and endowment wealth is concentrated in a relatively small number of organizations and subsectors. This study supports an operational definition of material endowment, equal to or greater than annual expenses, and investigates how common it is for a nonprofit to establish a meaningful endowment over time. Specifically, we address whether the sector's enthusiasm over the potential of endowment building is reflected in charitable organizations' experiences. Using financial data, we find that building a meaningful permanent endowment is a rare achievement among public charities over a period of two decades. Meaningful endowment creation, achieved by less than 2% of the sample, is more common for organizations with donor attachments, the need for subsidization of mission services, those with more fundraising costs, and those with more donative revenue portfolios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-55
Number of pages23
JournalNonprofit Management and Leadership
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • endowment
  • fundraising
  • nonprofit finance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management


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