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  • 1.  Using restricted acquistion endowment for care of collections

    Posted 01-13-2020 09:55 AM
    Hello All--

    A question from a client museum: Is it possible/legal/ethical to include a statement in the museum's policy re endowments that a certain percentage of endowment gifts that are restricted for the acquisition of collections will be used for the direct care of any works of art acquired with funds from said gift? Direct care would include conservation, framing, etc. The policy would apply to future gifts and wouldn't be applied retroactively.

    A follow up: If anyone uses this practice, what would be an appropriate percentage? The museum in question is thinking of using the same percentage that it draws from the general endowment for operations each year. 

    I recommended speaking to a lawyer and was told that two lawyers on the Board say this is an acceptable practice, but I am not familiar with it, and neither is the museum director.

    Thanks for any insights you might have.


    Gail Nessell Colglazier
    Executive Search Consultant

  • 2.  RE: Using restricted acquistion endowment for care of collections

    Posted 01-14-2020 06:19 AM
    I am looking forward to this discussion thread.  The field certainly is moving more and more towards the importance of "direct care," at least as it relates to the net proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned objects.  When it comes to an acquisitions endowment, especially as you are talking about new endowments only, it seems the best place to deal with this is directly with the donor of the new endowment and the language you collectively craft for their Gift Agreement.  With the donor as your partner from the very beginning, there certainly is no reason that the endowment gift could not be worded so that the museum could use the annual spendable portion for both acquisitions and direct care.

    Gregory Wittkopp
    Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
    Bloomfield Hills MI

  • 3.  RE: Using restricted acquistion endowment for care of collections

    Posted 01-14-2020 07:12 AM
    Hi, Gail!  I think it is 100% acceptable.  It is aligned with AAM's policy statements on funds derived from the sale of objects, so why would it breach those funds donated to/for endowments?

    The percentage part is tough because how does one ever know what conservation will cost?  On the other hand calculating curatorial and collections management staff, housing, supplies, etc. is easy.  Helpful?  Vivian

    Vivian F. Zoë, Director
    Slater Memorial Museum
    108 Crescent Street, Norwich CT 06360
    860-425-5560 vox
    860-885-0379 fax

    "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work," Chuck Close, 2003

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  • 4.  RE: Using restricted acquistion endowment for care of collections

    Posted 01-14-2020 10:31 AM
    The concept is laudable but as noted it should be specified in donation wording.  Some donors may not want to consider it while others may find it appealing.  I would caution against making it such a firm museum policy as to exclude donations that do not include it.  Thus it would be a preferred rather than a required aspect of gift discussions.  How it would be defined insofar as a percentage application is concerned, and what schedule would be set, can be worked out with the donor and the museum.  

     Also, while I have always liked allocating a portion of such funds or parts thereof for the "direct care" of the/a collection, in practice that can be interpreted very broadly.  Heck, the existence of a museum can be seen as "direct care" of collections since that is the thing that makes these places unique.  Last year the AAM had a nice conference on the topic but the outcome allowed for lots of wiggle room regarding how to define "direct care."  In practice I decided it meant physical actions taken to a collection object(s) or materials that would come in contact with such object(s).  As a curator of paper-based collections at the Museum of the City of New York for sixteen years I applied this to include not only conservation work done to prints, photographs, watercolors, documents, etc. but the immediate housing of them.  The latter included proper housing such as inert mats, folders, envelopes, as well as storage containers such as neutral flat file drawers.  These materials were in direct  contact with or immediately adjacent to collections.  Some years later at another museum which had a huge car collection with a few airplanes mixed in I probably could have argued that such funds could pay for storage buildings and gallery roofs.  

    In short, and as with any institutional commitments, such arrangements for restricted donations should avoid handcuffing a museum's future options while preserving the spirit of the charitable support making it possible.   I would be happy to chat off-line if the topic continues to be of interest.  Personally, I like the concept.



  • 5.  RE: Using restricted acquistion endowment for care of collections

    Posted 01-14-2020 01:30 PM
    Hi all:

    Absolutely! Do it! *enthusiastic clapping* You should speak with your development department about a formal gift acceptance policy for this type of gift. Hopefully, your development department already has a policy regarding the types of gifts it accepts (yes or no on fossil fuel profits, other legal and ethical concerns that align with the museum's mission and purpose). Contributions to the acquisitions fund can be covered by an existing or new, specific, policy. It is excellent education for donors to know that the purchase price for acquisitions is only a portion of the lifetime care costs.

    Note also, that FASB will require, for fiscal years starting in 2020, that museums who do not capitalize their collections and use deaccession proceeds for direct care clearly define the term "direct care" as used at the museum, and clearly segregate such proceeds for that purpose. (AASLH 's Professional Standards and Ethics Committee is currently reworking its White Paper on Capitalization of Collections to include this new information) I'd think that you could consolidate the deaccession proceeds and the % of acquisition fund gifts to direct care into the same fund with the same use policies. 

    Please let us know how things turn out!


    Erin Richardson PhD
    Founder and Principal
    Frank & Glory
    Cooperstown NY