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Development Director Faux Pas
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Development Director Faux Pas

This true story is based on a family that had contributed to a university over many years. In the late 1960’s the family gave the largest gift the university had received to date. Hence, a building was named in honor of the family.

Over the next several decades the university continued to grow and the family supported many of the efforts. Several family members were charter members in creating the first athletic boosters club for the university that provided much needed athletic scholarships.

Some family members also created their own scholarship endowments to support various schools within the university. By the late 1990’s the school continued to grow even larger and by this time had a formalized development department with a directive to seek out larger gifts from “friends” and alumnus.

Unfortunately, most of the staff i.e. development directors were hired from outside the area and knew nothing of the history of the university. Many in the community felt the university had quickly developed a pervasive and underlying attitude which while not verbalized basically asked the question: What have you done for me lately?

Despite this ongoing demeanor the university operated in a constant push for money and to their credit was able to secure its first ever million dollar donation. A scramble ensued to find a big enough “naming right” to honor this donor. No real building projects on the books matched the donor’s interest or were “big enough” so an idea was floated to hyphenate the name on the building that the first family was given as an honor.

A glossy booklet was created and presented to the first family basically telling them the name on the building was slated to be hyphenated as part of their new fundraising program. Unfortunately the timing of this presentation happened less than six months after the death of one of the family patriarchs that had loyally supported the university over his lifetime.

As you might imagine an explosion ensued and many family members were shocked and angry that this might occur. The university in its efforts came with hat in hand seeking an additional gift to support the university, basically to keep the name the same. In a sense re-selling an “honor” that was given by a past generation.

With little motivation to continue to give the first family still decided to offer the university a million dollar life insurance policy on one of the younger family members with the understanding that they would still pay the annual premium of $4,000. The university declined the offer and the person making the call basically said that that type of gift did not create any real “current value” so they were not interested. Amazing isn’t it how shortsighted someone can be?

While ultimately the building’s name was not hyphenated, permanent damage was done, therefore, the potential for future donations were lost forever.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.