When I started this series on ethics and fundraising, I stated that I would not name those individuals or organizations that violated the tenets of the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards, but I would name those that set an excellent example of ethical practices by their actions. I am pleased to identify the Corcoran Gallery of Art as an organization that did the right thing.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece called “Make Planned Giving a Family Affair.” In that article, I opined that when talking with donors about leaving an organization a legacy gift, one should include the heirs in the conversation so they know the intentions of the donor and so the organization can prevent any possible legal issues that might come up if the heirs are uninformed. The following is an excellent example of what I was discussing.
In 2011, copper heiress and art collector Huguette Clark died at the age of 104 years. After she passed, it was discovered she had left two distinctly different wills written six weeks apart in 2005. These wills created a legal issue that spawned a court battle, pitting the heiress’s distant relatives against her personal nurse, accountant, lawyer and charitable organizations that was finally settled in September of 2013.
The Corcoran had benefited greatly from its relationship with the Clark family and could have gained more, had it chosen to side with those seeking to validate the second will. Huguette’s father, William Andrews Clark, had donated his art collection to the gallery when he died, and she donated money to build an addition to the gallery to house his collection. According to news reports, the Corcoran would have received a Monet painting with an estimated worth of $25 million or more, but it sided with the family members who believed the second will was signed by a mentally debilitated woman overly influenced by certain employees who would personally benefit financially if the second will had been enforced.
The AFP Code of Ethical Standards and Principles states “Members shall not exploit any relationship with a donor, prospect, volunteer, or employee for the benefit of the member or the member’s organization.” The gallery did not want to benefit from someone whose mental capabilities may have been impaired by her advanced age, and so I must commend them for their choice to do the right thing.
The Corcoran Gallery did receive a financial gift in the legal settlement. The gallery received over $10 million in the settlement approved by the New York courts, and half of the proceeds for the sale of the Monet painting, if it sold for $25 million or more. According to the Washington Post, when the painting was sold at a recent auction at Christie’s, surprisingly the painting only sold for $24 million, so they did not receive the extra millions they had hoped to receive. It’s too bad that the painting did not sell for more, because in my opinion, the Corcoran Gallery should have been rewarded for taking the moral and ethical stand that it did. At least they can say they have gained my praise and respect for doing the right thing. I hope they have gained your respect too.