Financial endowment

A financial endowment is a donation of money or property to a nonprofit organization for the ongoing support of that organization. Usually the endowment is structured so that the principal amount is kept intact while the investment income is available for use, or part of the principal is released each year, which allows for their donation to have an impact over a longer period than if it were spent all at once. An endowment may come with stipulations regarding its usage.

The total value of an institution's investments is often referred to as the institution's endowment and is typically organized as a public charity, private foundation, or trust. Among the institutions that commonly manage endowments are academic institutions (e.g., colleges, universities, and private schools), cultural institutions (e.g., museums, libraries, and theaters), service organizations (e.g., hospitals, retirement homes, the Red Cross, the SPCA), and religious organizations (e.g., churches, synagogues, mosques).


The earliest "endowed chairs" were those established by the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius in Athens in AD 176. Aurelius created one endowed chair for each of the major schools of philosophy: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism. Later, similar endowments were set up in some other major cities of the Empire. [1] [2]

The practice was adapted to the modern university system beginning in England in 1502, when Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and grandmother to the future king Henry VIII, created the first endowed chairs in divinity at the universities of Oxford ( Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity) and Cambridge ( Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity). [3] Nearly 50 years later, Henry VIII established the Regius Professorships at both universities, this time in five subjects: divinity, civil law, Hebrew, Greek, and physic—the last of those corresponding to what we now know as medicine and basic sciences. Today, the University of Glasgow has fifteen Regius Professorships.

Private individuals soon adopted the practice of endowing professorships. Isaac Newton held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge beginning in 1669, more recently held by the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking. [4]