The “clean money” debate has been brought into focus recently over a case involving the Sackler family and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) recently covered in Third Sector Magazine. For many years the Sackler family have been very generous benefactors to art galleries in the UK via the family’s Sackler Trust. Amongst other charitable projects they are patrons of the Sackler Centre at the Victoria and Albert Museum and have provided funding for the Sackler Gallery at the Serpentine Galleries in London. However, last month in a statement issued by both the Sackler Trust and the NPG it was announced that they had jointly agreed not to proceed with a grant for £1M which was promised to the NPG in 2016 to go towards a multi million pound building project.
The controversy over the grant started in February when US photographer Nan Goldin told The Observer newspaper that she would refuse permission for a retrospective of her work to be held at the National Portrait Gallery if it accepted the donation. Goldin began a campaign against the Sackler family and its charitable trust after she was prescribed and became addicted to OxyContin, an opioid produced by the US-based company Purdue Pharma, which is wholly owned by the family.
Purdue Pharma is currently being sued in the US by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which have produced court documents alleging that the company had created an addiction epidemic and “profited from it through a web of illegal deceit” by misleading doctors and patients to encourage more people to take higher doses of the drug for longer than was safe.
The Sackler family deny the allegation and in a joint statement issued, the Sackler Trust said the Sackler family’s giving philosophy had “always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission. It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work. The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the NPG, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation. We continue to believe strongly in the gallery and the wonderful work it does.”
David Ross, chair of the National Portrait Gallery, added: “I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler family and their support of the arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the gallery.”
Gemma Underwood, Director of Underwood Consulting stressed the importance of knowing your donors ethical profile saying, “It has long been acknowledged that corporate fundraising can be a minefield if you do not have a comprehensive strategy that considers the ethical contours of the companies you are working with. Support from sponsors involved with tobacco, gambling, drugs or even loan companies can be frowned upon by many beneficiaries”.
However there is also a need to look in detail at your other donors too, and ask the questions such as;
- Where does their money come from?
- Are they or have they recently been involved in any litigation?
- Have they been named and shamed in recent tax avoidance scandals?
The list goes on, and as the case above demonstrates, trusts and individuals can also pose problems. Therefore whilst prospect research can be a time consuming activity, it is one worth undertaking thoroughly to avoid donations compromising your charities mission or causing reputational damage by association. Underwood Consulting can help with this, we undertake detailed prospect research to support charities appeals and provide a trust and corporate fundraising courses that examine this issue in more detail.