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University Hall at the University of Montana (copy)

The University of Montana campus

The Montana Board of Regents approved a new operating agreement between the University of Montana and the UM Foundation Tuesday, including some changes to how much input UM has on how donations are used.

According to the new agreement, the Foundation now has the authority to determine whether a donor's money is being used within the bounds of the donor's intent. 

Previous agreements specified "appropriate University staff" would be the primary reviewers of whether a donor's wishes, some of whom have died and can't be consulted, are being fulfilled if their donations were earmarked for specific uses.

UM spokesperson Paula Short said the change was necessary, as the Foundation has the legal responsibility to manage the donations, not the university. 

The two entities, while closely related, must maintain sufficient separation in order for the Foundation to remain an independent nonprofit, affording it certain privacy rights for donors that aren't available to public institutions like UM.

Another change, one that was not noted on the meeting agenda, governs what happens to the money if the Foundation were to dissolve. 

Previously, the agreement stipulated the university would receive all of the Foundation's assets if it ceased to exist. The updated language says that the assets would be transferred to another nonprofit organization, "in keeping with Montana law."

"In the unlikely event that the UM Foundation would dissolve, distribution of assets would be guided by the Montana Attorney General's office," Short wrote in an email response to questions about the changes. "The language in this new agreement reflects our understanding of Montana law and practice in such circumstances."

The university is no longer required to send donations it receives on to the Foundation, with a simple word change. In prior agreements, UM was seemingly required to use the Foundation to manage all donations, even those made directly to UM, rather than the Foundation. 

The change switched the word "shall" to "may" in regard to whether or not the university should send the money to the Foundation. Short said this change allows the university to be "flexible" in accepting direct donations.

The agreement also formally allows the university president to request a comprehensive snapshot of the foundation's assets. Short said this had already been available to the president, but the additional language would set that ability in stone.

The UM Foundation manages $301 million in assets, as of June 30, according to its most recent audit. It acts as the fundraising arm of the university, and has helped secure donations that built the football stadium and large additions to multiple campus buildings, and funds millions of dollars in annual student scholarships.

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