A Complicated Dance.

by Kerry Burke on May 17, 2011

How far will your organization go to get a major gift?

It seems these days that the boundaries are blurring a bit. The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that a $1.5M grant to Florida State University from billionaire Charles G. Koch gives him advisory rights to the screening and annual evaluation of possible instructors for a donor-funded class on economics.

I have myriad issues with this scenario. First, the idea that the donor gets input on such a proprietary part of the University’s academic management implies that he does not trust their judgment. And it appears that the University is okay with that. Which means the board of directors is okay with it. Am I missing something here?

Second, the idea that Koch’s foundation can withdraw its support if the instructors don’t meet his performance objectives is outrageous. He is threatening, in the simplest of terms, to be an Indian-Giver (is that un-PC to say? Anyway you get the idea.) I guess if he doesn’t like the results, he’ll just take his marbles and go home. Buh-bye and harumph.

Here’s my favorite part of the article, a quote from the University President, referring to Koch’s purchased seat on the advisory board – “If there is anything that affected academic freedom, I would put an immediate stop to it.”

A stop to what, the donor’s temper tantrum if he doesn’t like what’s happening? Or a stop to the class? Or a stop to the funding? Or a stop to the way the teacher is teaching it? How is this gift-with-big-administrative-heavy-strings a viable idea? 

 I agree that when the economy tanks and portfolios are ravaged (ie, 2008), non-profits are wise to get creative with their major donors. And I also suppose, that in the end, alls well that ends well. Hopefully Koch will like the instructors of the FSU economics class, and hopefully the students will benefit. Glad I don’t have to worry about it.

A delicate dance, this gift agreement is. But I’m not sure that the benefits are worth the implications.

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