A financial endowment is a legal structure for managing, and in many cases indefinitely perpetuating, a pool of financial, real estate, or other investments for a specific purpose according to the will of its founders and donors. Endowments are often structured so that the principal value is kept intact, while the investment income or a small part of the principal is available for use each year.
Endowments are often governed and managed either as a nonprofit corporation, a charitable foundation, or a private foundation that, while serving a good cause, might not qualify as a public charity. In some jurisdictions, it is common for endowed funds to be established as a trust independent of the organizations and the causes the endowment is meant to serve. Institutions that commonly manage endowments include 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); and religious organizations (e.g., churches, synagogues, mosques).
Private endowments are some of the wealthiest entities in the world, notably private higher education endowments. Harvard University's endowment (valued at $53.2 billion as of June 2021[update]) is the largest academic endowment in the world. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the wealthiest private foundations as of 2019 with endowment of $46.8 billion as of December 31, 2018[update].