Due Diligence On Your Donors

There’s a thought-provoking article by Peter Whoriskey in the 3/7/2022 edition of the Washington Post that examines the extent Russian oligarchs have contributed to US nonprofits, including those in the arts and culture sector.

According to the article, the Anti-Corruption Data Collective has been uncovering the depth oligarch money has been funding arts and culture.

“To produce the analysis, the collective scoured public sources for records of charitable contributions given personally by the oligarchs or by the companies and foundations they control. Because many large cultural institutions are not required to reveal their funding sources, the analysis probably reflects only a portion of the oligarchs’ donations. The institutions receiving the money often did not provide precise figures for the donations, only lower bounds, and the amounts could be substantially higher.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, orchestra are not exempt from scrutiny.

“The Kennedy Center accepted $6.5 million from Potanin’s company, Interros, in 2011, a Kennedy Center spokesman said. There are no active donations from him.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time the orchestra field has encountered this issue, albeit with homegrown funds from sources that turned out to be less than legitimate. I published an article back in 2005 about the need for increased due diligence into large donors following the arrest of Alberto Vilar.

If nothing else, this is perhaps one more reason to get the conversation going about the need for increased government support of the arts and culture sector. After all, the less organizations need to depend on large donors, the less likely they will be to turn a blind eye.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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