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When universities decide to cheat donors, they go about it deliberately. In 2010, UCLA got a court to remove the “perpetuity” clause from the agreement. Then it announced the sale. Who knew that the concept of eternity was open to negotiation?

Unfortunately for donors, at many universities the difference between “we take donor intent seriously” to “we’re in compliance” to “take a hike” is the distance from the fundraisers’ suite to the department of legal affairs.

The fact is that universities have a poor track record of adhering to donor intent and often are willing to run roughshod over donors if restrictions to which they agreed in the past don’t fit with their current plans.

If nonprofits want donors to keep giving, they need to follow through on their promises. Otherwise, philanthropists - especially those giving non-monetary gifts - may be wary of giving away the crown jewels if they believe the jewels and crown will be separated or sold.

Frederic Fransen is executive director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (