Your Typical College Donation
Unofficially, they call it the
office of unusual assets.
It’s a phrase those in
advancement, such as Cam Kelly ’84, director of major
gifts and gift planning, use to describe the planned giving
office’s work with a virtual repository of sometimes-quirky,
often-valuable donations from alumnae and friends. Parcels
of real estate, pricey paintings, rare books, sculptures,
and fine silver might belong in the category by virtue of
their distinction from the cash or stock donations typically
given by alumnae.
There is no actual office of
unusual assets. But as Kelly explains, every college receives
its share of donated items that might require some creativity
among administrators to determine their usefulness.
“If you mention it to other
planned giving professionals, they just smile and nod,”
says Kelly of this hodgepodge of unusual donations.
An administrator in advancement
at Colby College describes a donation of axe handles as part
of an entire garage full of belongings given to the college.
Then there was the offer there of a complete collection of
Readers’ Digest Condensed Books.
“Gifts should have a related
college use,” notes Kelly. “We don’t want
to have the situation where we accept a gift of property,
then place it in a corner somewhere.”
To assess the related use for
a proposed gift, the college formed the Gift Acceptance Committee,
a small group of administrators, such as Kelly, who consider
whether proposed gifts would serve a college use.
A handsome silver tea service
given by a 1942 alumna is now put to use on occasion in the
President’s house. A specialized telescope that allows
views of the sun, donated by the mother of a 1990 Smith alumna,
gets regular use by the astronomy department. A crew shell
given by the husband of a 1979 alumna hits the water frequently,
powered by Smith crew team rowers.
The list goes on: a crèche
scene used by the chapel, a topography studio in the art department,
an original painting by Georgia O’Keeffe now in the
Museum of Art.
These unusual gifts end up on
Smith’s doorstep via several paths. Each has its own
story, as Kelly would tell you. Sometimes they arrive as part
of the estate of an alumna, left as a bequest to the college.
More often, the gift is proposed during a donor’s lifetime,
allowing for an income tax deduction.
“One of the reasons for
moving these types of assets is when people want to downsize
an estate,” explains Kelly. “We accept many gifts
of property offered to the college, but we can’t accept
everything. Fortunately, people are thoughtful, and comparatively
few gifts come across my desk that the college declines.”
While unusual gifts are certainly appreciated by the college,
every once in a while one ends up at Smith that might have
better remained with its original owner.
A decade ago, a valuable-but-temperamental
horse was donated to Smith’s equestrian program, Kelly
recalls all too well. “It would only allow one person
to ride it,” she says of the horse, “and was not
adaptable to new student riders.”
“It takes a special kind
of temperament to work with a different rider every day,”
says Sue Payne, senior coach of riding. “This horse
just didn’t have it.”
That horse—perhaps the consummate unusual donation—became
grist for a host of advancement insider jokes for a while.
“We had to endure all sorts of jokes about looking a
gift horse in the mouth,” quips Kelly.
Thankfully, she says, most items
that are accepted by Smith through the office of unusual assets
are of value and good use to the college.