Is your nonprofit considering constructing a new wing or building based on receiving one substantial donation? Before it does, the board should consider all possible outcomes, including ending up in court.
Helga Wall-Apelt, a former board member of Florida State University’s Ringling Museum of Art, contributed $6 million to the museum in 2006 for a new center for Asian Art. She also contributed the use of her collection of jades, bronzes, sculptures, and photographs worth $30 million. In return, the new center was to be named for Wall-Apelt.
Almost 9 years later, construction has just begun on the new center. It has been delayed several times as the museum sought matching funds from the government and other sources. The vast majority of Wall-Apelt’s collection has been in storage at the museum since 2008.
Wall-Apelt has now filed suit against the museum, the university, and the affiliated Florida State University Foundation, claiming they have breached the terms of the gift agreement. Her attorney summed up her feelings, asking: “Here we are, almost nine years [after the donation], and she is out $6 million and the use of the collection, and what does she have to show for it?”
The museum’s executive director Steven High maintains that the museum has “met every element of this gift agreement.” Regardless, the museum has nearly 4,000 Asian art objects in addition to those promised by Wall-Apelt so it plans to open in January, 2016 with or without her collection.