This is just a story about how planned giving (and fundraising in general) can cross ethical boundaries and get very sticky and negative at times – and how actions taken 10 to 20 years ago could come back to haunt institutions – post-mortem, if you will.
This is the latest installment in the planned giving epic tragedy involving the once famous Huguette Clark (click here to see other stories I have written on her fascinating life and passing), who happened to live at Beth Israel Medial Center when I was their planned giving director in the mid-2000s. She had already been a permanent resident in the hospital for probably over 15 years when I got there – and for the most part, the staff talk at the time was that the alleged billionairess (she turned out to only have hundreds of millions) would decide on her own to have a will or not, and to give what she wanted, to whom she wanted. In other words, it sounded like she was a very strong willed person and the hospital was lucky to receive some gifts from her (as well as the rent she paid for her room). Very few hospital staff (fundraising or otherwise) had any contact with her – not me or all of the fundraisers I knew except for the head of the department and the former president.
Honestly, I did not get the sense that any ethical boundaries were crossed (but, of course, I didn’t have all of the facts – as they are coming out now). Turns out that well before my time at the hospital, the then president of the hospital actively sought to translate her “relationship” with the hospital into significant giving – not just a few million which they did receive but much more. I can’t deny that some didn’t think that Beth Israel’s much needed hospital rebuild could potentially have come from Ms. Clark.
Ok, but sending in the hospital president’s mom to watch the Smurf movie with Ms. Clark, and to try to talk big gift to the hospital at such a setting? This is what the NY Post is reporting, if you want to see the NY Post story, click here.
I love the NY Post for their fun reporting but when your institution gets into their papers for questionable motives and actions regarding a resident of your institution, you have trouble. Not that any current employees are in the firing line – but, their $1 million bequest from the Clark estate is certainly at stake as well as the $4 million or so in life-time gifts she made. Not small change for any institution.
Interestingly, anyone involved in fundraising, especially in the medical area, will see what I see – this was what we call fundraising. How can we at least pitch a large gift to this donor (she was a donor to the hospital)? The Post and other outlets are having a field-day with this one because it looks really bad.
This story is being blown out of proportion – skewed by an estate looking to clawback some funds and a media that likes to create stories that make good copy. The real story is not what they are portraying but it does give us caution to attempt to avoid even the potential future appearance of impropriety. Think about what you are doing and wonder how it will look as a headline in the NY Post. That is probably the best ethics advice you’ll ever receive in this field of planned giving fundraising.