Tag Archives: Huguette Clark

A Charity Did What Charities Do

No Smoking Guns courtesy of David King on Flickr
No Smoking Guns courtesy of David King on Flickr
Last week The New York Times exposed Beth Israel Medical Center’s fundraising operation as it became public through documents related to a will challenge by distant relatives of Huguette Clark, a wealthy woman who lived her last 20 years in the New York City nonprofit hospital. She died in 2011.

From the Times’ account, I see very little wrong and nothing egregious. New details may emerge and I’m analyzing what’s known today based on the linked article. (I’m much more interested in where the story ends.)

Ms. Clark was a major gift prospect, as she should be. She lived in the hospital for a long time and had her faculties.

Fundraising staff researched their prospect and the CEO was actively involved. All CEOs should be engaged in major gift fundraising. They wrote memos to each other and to the file.

It’s true: people inside charities routinely talk to each other about fundraising prospects and donors. They keep records in databases and paper files. They hold strategy meetings to manage relationships.

That’s what charities do.

It’s what they have to do to get gifts so their doors stay open. It is the way fundraising gets done in the charity business.

Surprisingly, the Times article lacks this context. There’s no commentary from a person with knowledge of fundraising practices to say, presumably, that there’s not much in this story that’s out of the ordinary.

What I didn’t like is the unprofessionalism of some notes and the unbridled exuberance that led a staffer to use seven exclamation marks to announce a gift of a painting. And there are snarky comments, too.

Those instances were poorly judged and thoughtless. Not illegal. Not unethical. Just thoughtless.

Never put in writing something you wouldn’t want the person you’re writing about to read. Keep your notes factual.

My greatest interest is the last paragraph of the Times’ article. Within 20 days of signing her first will, which did not include Beth Israel, the CEO met with Ms. Clark three times. Three weeks after the last of those visits she executed a new will with a $1 million bequest for the hospital. That’s the will under dispute.

Now we’re squarely in my territory, Planned Giving.

  • Did an attorney prepare the wills?
  • Did the same attorney prepare both?
  • Were they executed in compliance with New York law? (The first will is dubbed “sparse.”)
  • Were the attorneys recommended by the hospital?
  • Did hospital staff have meetings with the attorneys?
  • Who paid the attorneys?
  • How many people were in the three meetings with Ms. Clark?
  • What was said?
  • How did she react?
  • Did other staff meet her between the two wills?
  • What did they say and how many people were in those meetings?

Nearly everything leading up to the first will is business as usual, as far as we know.

For me, the end of the story begins the most interesting inquiry.