Philanthropy in the era of 'Toxic Donations' - expert view

This article was written by Withers’ Alana Petraske and initially published by Spear’s on May 29, 2019.

A visit to virtually any museum, performance hall or university is accompanied by an introduction to the families that have supported it.

Prominent naming has been an integral part of philanthropy at least since its first ‘Golden Age’, when the largess of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and the like dominated the landscape.


Even if the music – or the art or the education – are the exciting part of an institution’s activities, it’s often the construction and refurbishment of buildings that requires the most support and which offers the biggest opportunities for naming.

Naming can be complex, particularly when an institution promises a perpetual naming right and subsequently needs more money to further develop a site.

Music lovers used to attending concerts at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall now book their tickets at David Geffen Hall, a change that was possible only with a highly public disagreement, culminating with a payout to the Fisher family.


Beyond the challenges of perpetuity, naming can raise thorny issues around reputation.

While institutions are highly dependent on philanthropic support, their reputations are also their most prized assets. When a donor is embroiled in a scandal, the institution can often find its own reputation is affected, with an impact on its operations and perhaps even a chilling effect on its ability to attract other funding.

In this era of ‘toxic donations’ scandals, prospective donors may find making a gift to be more complicated than expected.

The full article is available here.