Board members, and the big money

At a recent Board training session, the Nonprofiteer was asked, "Is all this emphasis on donating and fundraising something particular to [this agency], or is it common among nonprofit Boards?"  She was a bit taken aback, though of course there would be no need for Board training if there weren’t questions like that; but she replied (somewhat defensively, truth be told) that all nonprofit Boards focus on giving and getting contributions.  She added that Board fundraising was especially necessary to nonprofit growth: every organization that builds a new building or launches a new program is able to do so only because of the Board’s gifts and efforts to secure others’ gifts.

All of which was demonstrated in spectacular fashion a few days ago, as documented in yesterday’s New York Times article about a $100 million naming gift to the New York Public Library from a member of its Board of Trustees.  While the article concentrates on the "naming" part, and succeeds in suggesting that the Board member/donor is an ever-so-slightly grasping and vulgar creature for accepting the accolade, in its later paragraphs the story makes clear almost accidentally the critical role Board gifts like this one play in the health of charitable institutions.

The library itself has drawn criticism for some other transactions,
like selling the Donnell branch in Midtown Manhattan in November to
Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. for $59 million. The branch will be razed to
make way for an 11-story hotel, with the library taking over the first
floor and an underground level.

In April 2005, the library
decided to sell 19 works from its art collection to bolster its
endowment and raise money to buy books. The sales netted $53 million,
but critics lamented the loss of canonical pieces including “Kindred
Spirits,” a Hudson River School painting by Asher B. Durand.

But here’s the point: if your strategic plan says you need $100 million to grow and serve more people, you can raze a building and sell a canonical painting, or a member of your Board can step up and write the check.  (Yes, the Library did both, but that’s because its strategic plan says it needs $1 billion.)  Those are the choices nonprofits face*; and any Board member who makes the choice painless by making the big gift should be recognized as a hero.

Here’s an idea: maybe they should name the building after him.


*If you doubt that, consider how desperately Fisk University needs to sell part of its collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, and why.


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